Having won its sixth consecutive conference crown, the Whitworth men’s basketball team enters the postseason with hard-won confidence.
The No. 16 Pirates (22-3) hosts fourth-seeded Willamette (10-15) Thursday at 7 p.m. at Whitworth Fieldhouse in the Northwest Conference semifinal game. The Pirates twice beat the Bearcats during the regular season.
“We definitely are playing our best basketball of the year,” said Matt Logie, the conference coach-of-the year for the third time in his four years at Whitworth. “Our guys definitely have an understanding of what that looks like and what that takes.”
The Pirates are led by all-conference first-team sophomores Kenny Love and Christian Jurlina, who led the team in scoring with 14.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game. Love was also named Northwest Conference player of the year after leading the Pirates in scoring in conference play.
But the Pirates have one of the best centers in the league in 6-foot-8 senior Taylor Farnsworth (Mead) and junior forward George Valle can play any position on the floor. Both were named the conference’s honorable mention team.
“Playing at home for the tournament is a nice reward for the hard work and success our team had during the regular season,” Logie said. “It’s a neat opportunity to play tournament basketball in the fieldhouse. But it could happen at home, on the road or inside of a YMCA, it’s going to come down to execution.”
The Pirates lost only one conference game, a 68-44 loss at second-place Whitman (20-5) on Feb. 3. The Missionaries play third-place Lewis & Clark (15-10) tonight in Walla Walla for the chance to play Saturday for the automatic tournament berth.
“It’s a whole new season,” Logie said. “Willamette is a really scrappy defensive team. They put a lot of pressure on the ball and try to make the offense adjust to them.”
If Whitworth beats Willamette, it would then host the championship game on at either 7 or 8 p.m. depending on the outcome of the women’s tournament.
“Our guys have been in a lot of big games,” Logie said. “You can never look in that rearview mirror and rest on your laurels. We have to get to that championship game Saturday as best we can and go from there.”
Women seek repeat
The No. 23 Whitworth women’s basketball team would love to repeat the end of last season and upset a previously undefeated conference champion for an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III tournament.
But to earn their third-straight tournament run, the Pirates must first figure out a way to stop No. 18 Puget Sound on Thursday in Tacoma. It’s the same team that beat Whitworth 82-78 on Sunday. That loss in Tacoma dropped the Pirates (22-4) to the third seed in the four-team conference tournament.
“We talked about it (Wednesday). Without winning the conference tournament there is no expectation, even with a great record, that we will get in” the NCAA tournament, coach Helen Higgs said. “You have to have some extra urgency about it.”
The conference has three teams ranked in the D3hoops.com poll, including undefeated No. 3 George Fox. And, the league’s fourth seed, Whitman, lost in the national championship game last season.
Earlier this season, the Pirates had blowout losses on the road to Whitman and George Fox. Whitworth also beat the Loggers at home 83-77 on Jan. 23. Whitworth then took George Fox to overtime before losing 53-52 on Feb. 12 at Whitworth Fieldhouse.
“I’ll play anybody at this point,” Higgs said. “It’s not like there is a better choice. You get to those top four and it’s a tough draw.”
George Fox will host Whitman (16-9) on Thursday, which lost its previous games to the Bruins by 14 and 8 points, respectively. The highest seed remaining would then host the championship game on Saturday.
In Whitworth’s loss last Sunday, the Loggers used their size inside to score most of their points against the Pirates.
“We’ve got to find a way to slow them down, especially their front line,” Higgs said. “We have to be balanced in scoring and not rely on one player.”
Higgs said she would also like to find more opportunities for senior forward Jessica Kramer and point guard Lexie Zappone to get more open shots.
“It’s that time of year where you have to kind of suck it up,” Higgs said. “Once they get on the bus, all the details are done or they are not. We hope to get a win and see what happens after that.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.