No. 5 Whitworth started strong Saturday night and rode senior star George Valle to an impressive 72-53 victory over the same Willamette team that took the Pirates to overtime in January.
The Pirates raced out to an 11-0 run to start Senior Night and the defense hassled Bearcats shooters all night in a game that never got close after midway through the first half.
“Our defense was terrific,” coach Matt Logie said. “Anytime you hold a team to 31 percent shooting and 21 points in the first half, you’ll give your team a chance.”
Valle, who has started since his freshman season, led all scorers with 20 points. He also had nine rebounds and four assists for Whitworth (22-1, 13-1 Northwest Conference).
“On senior day, it was great to get off to a great start. I’ve been a part of a couple other senior days where it didn’t go as smoothly,” Valle said. “Tonight was a lot of fun.”
Whitworth handled the same Willamette (7-16, 4-10) team that took it to overtime on Jan. 15 before Whitworth pulled out an 81-77 victory.
“They played really well the first game,” Logie said. “We just kind of struggled offensively. We’ve grown up a lot since then.”
The game started with the team honoring Valle and fellow senior Matt Staudacher, who transferred in two years ago from Simon Fraser. Also honored were transfer guard AJ Grant, who is injured, and Brandon Loiler, who hasn’t played because of a back injury.
Once the introductions ended, the Pirates began to pillage. They raced out to an 11-0 lead. Nico Troplent finally got the Bearcats on the board, more than five minutes into the game, with a layup.
But the Bearcats finally found their range and Brandon Luedtke helped Willamette scratch back to 22-17 with 4:25 until the break.
Less than a minute later, Kenny Love made the play of the half. With the shot clock running down, Love dribbled open, stepped back to NBA range and nailed a 3-pointer to give Whitworth a 26-17 lead.
After two more layups from Valle, Whitworth went to the break leading 33-21.
Christian Jurlina, who finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, opened the second half by converting a three-point play off of a foul. Staudacher then hit a 3-pointer as part of a 12-1 run that essentially put the game out of reach.
Love finished with 13 points. Kyle Roach had nine and 6-10 center Drew Sears had four points, but grabbed 14 rebounds and was credited with six blocks.
“Drew has been playing absolutely incredibly,” Valle said. “He’s the best shot blocker in the conference. He only had six blocks but he changed 10 or 12 shots even if he didn’t get credit.”
The Pirates shot 42.4 percent from the floor, including 8-of-21 from long range. Willamette only had two players score in double figures, Luedtke and Alex Brown both scored 10, and shot 31.7 from the floor.
Whitworth outscored the Bearcats 34-14 in the paint and held a 52-35 rebound advantage.
“We wanted to make sure to send a strong message and protect our home court,” said Staudacher, who scored six points and grabbed five boards. “It’s something I will remember forever.”
Whitworth, which has clinched a spot in the four-team conference tournament, plays on the road at Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran next week.
“It’s such a blast to play here in the fieldhouse,” Valle said. “If we take care of business this next weekend, we have the chance to play one or maybe two games (at home). We still have a lot to play for.”
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