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Whitworth plays Whitman for NWC tournament crown

Whitworth University’s No. 2-ranked men’s basketball team has the matchup it has coveted for the last nine days in tonight’s championship game of the Northwest Conference tournament that tips off at 7 at Whitworth Fieldhouse.

The top-seeded Pirates (25-1), by virtue of Thursday night’s 74-63 escape of fourth-seeded Pacific Lutheran’s semifinals upset bid, earned a rematch against second-seeded Whitman (19-7), a 79-76 winner over Lewis & Clark in Thursday’s other semifinals.

It was the Missionaries who handed Whitworth its only regular-season loss, 82-79 in Walla Walla on Feb. 15.

The defeat knocked the Pirates – who blew a 21-point second-half lead and failed to score in the final 5 minutes, 41 seconds of the game – off their perch atop the Top 25 poll, and the Bucs are elated over getting a chance at redemption.

“That’s the only blemish on our record, and I know our guys will be excited about trying to right that wrong,” coach Jim Hayford said of tonight’s showdown, which will determine the NWC’s automatic berth in the NCAA Division III tournament.

“Going 6 minutes at the end of that game and not being Whitworth was disappointing,” added senior guard Michael Taylor. “And we want to prove to ourselves, and everyone else, that it should not have happened.”

Whitman rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit to edge Lewis & Clark. The Missionaries, who outrebounded the Pioneers 51-31, got a team-high 15 points from Brandon Shaw and 14 from Drew Raher, who also had nine rebounds.

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