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Once again, Whitworth to open NCAA tournament at Whitman

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 26, 2018

Whitworth players surround Kyle Roach, fingers raised, after he hit a 3-pointer  at the buzzer to beat Whitman College 91-88 and take the Northwest Conference Tournament championship. (Greg Lehman / Walla Walla Union-Bulletin)
Whitworth players surround Kyle Roach, fingers raised, after he hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Whitman College 91-88 and take the Northwest Conference Tournament championship. (Greg Lehman / Walla Walla Union-Bulletin)

Whitworth will be in familiar territory for the Division III basketball tournament: its own backyard.

Thirty-six hours after one of the biggest wins in school history, the Pirates learned Monday morning they will be taking a third trip to Walla Walla this year, for the NCAA Division III tournament.

Just as in 2017, Whitworth will play Claremont-Mudd-Scripps College in a first-round game on Friday.

The site also is the same: Whitman College, where on Saturday night the fourth-ranked Pirates (24-3) earned the Northwest Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAAs with a 91-88 win at top-ranked Whitman on Kyle Roach’s last-second 3-pointer.

That’s right: the No. 1 and No. 4 teams in the 64-team bracket could meet in the second round.

Moments after the pairings were announced, the players reacted fatalistically, grabbed their backpacks and headed off to class.

Not that he had any choice, but Whitworth coach Matt Logie chose to look on the bright side Monday.

“We’re excited,” Logie said. “As we’ve said from day one, we’ll go anywhere, anytime and play anyone.”

On Friday, that will be Claremont-Mudd-Scripps of Los Angeles, which is 19-7 overall and won the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference with a 15-1 record.

Senior guard Michael Scarlett, who averages 18.9 points per game, is the SCIAC Player of the Year for the second straight season.

The Stags held off Whitworth 78-73 in the NCAA first-round game last season, also in Walla Walla.

“We’re familiar with the teams on the West Coast,” Logie said. “And for our fans, the opportunity to travel to Walla Walla is a huge benefit.”

In the other first-round game, Whitman (26-1) will face Schreiner, of Kernville, Texas. The Mountaineers (15-12) are coming off a 77-73 win over Centenary (La.) in the championship of the Southern Collegiate Athletics Conference tournament.

The winners will play Saturday for a right to advance to the Sweet 16.

Whitworth’s confidence is bolstered by last weekend’s win at Whitman, which reached the Final Four last year.

“Saturday night was a magical night,” said Logie, who had lost his previous seven games against Whitman. “To be able to break through, it was an amazing night and one these kids will remember for the rest of their lives.”

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