The No. 2 Whitworth Pirates men’s basketball team keeps finding ways to win even without Northwest Conference player of the year Kenny Love, who has missed a couple of games and remains questionable with an injured eye.
The Pirates (5-0) open conference play tonight at 8 p.m. against Lewis & Clark (2-3). Coach Matt Logie said he’s not sure whether he’ll have the services the junior guard, who took a nasty poke to the eye during a practice. The injury required stitches on his eyelid and caused his eye to swell.
“It was one of those situations, for precautionary reasons, we didn’t want to put him in a position where he could damage his eye long-term,” Logie said.
Without Love in the lineup, George Valle and Christian Jurlina picked up their scoring in a 69-56 win over Hamline last Friday. Then last Saturday, point guard Matt Staudacher nearly doubled his best scoring output when he hung 25 points on host Colorado College in a 73-66 win.
Fellow guard Derek Isaak scored 18, as did Valle, who totaled 37 points in the two road wins.
“Matt and Derek did a great job this past weekend,” Logie said. “They both have really grown in our program. And George has been terrific. It’s been the most consistent he has played.”
Valle, a 6-4 senior from Bellevue, leads the team with 18.2 points and 8.6 rebounds a game and can play any position from point guard to power forward.
“He’s playing with passion and is leading our guys,” Logie said of Valle. “It’s great to watch him really step into his own as a senior.”
In his three games, Love is second on the team with 15.3 points a game. He is followed by the 13.2 points and five rebounds a game from Jurlina, a 6-5 junior wing from Sydney, Australia.
“CJ had a really great game on Friday against Hamline,” Logie said. “His 18 points and 14 rebounds were really critical to us winning that game.”
Jurlina is still trying to find his touch from the 3-point line (7 of 24), which forces defenses to stretch the floor, Logie said.
“He really hasn’t got on track … but everything else he brings to the table – attacking the basket and rebounding – has been terrific,” Logie said. “He hit a huge (3-pointer) for us on Friday that sparked a big run. It’s just a matter of getting a few more opportunities.”
With Isaak (10.4) and Staudacher (10.2), Whitworth has five players averaging in double figures as they open conference play. The Pirartes turn around and host Linfield (6-1) Saturday at 6 p.m. at Whitworth Fieldhouse.
The Pioneers feature all-conference guard Jason Luhnow (18.8 point a game) and 6-4 forward Carl Appleton, who hasn’t yet played following a football injury. Lewis & Clark played Whitworth for the conference tournament title last season, losing 69-58.
Linfield was picked by coaches to finish ninth in the league, but has only lost once in the early season.
Logie, who is the first Division III coach in history to notch 100 wins in only four seasons, said the conference will provide plenty of tests for the Pirates, who have their highest national ranking since they were ranked No. 1 during the 2010-11 season.
“Every year you want to be much better at the end of the year,” he said. “I’ve yet to come across a team that is hitting on all strides early in the year. I’m most pleased with the growth we’ve seen in this group, their toughness and togetherness and ability to finish games.”
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