There are many reasons why Whitworth University has ruled the roost in Northwest Conference men’s basketball the past five seasons.
The Pirates have a strong tradition. They have a good, young, level-headed coach. And every time they step into a gymnasium, they believe they should win.
The cat-and-mouse game Friday night was how the Pirates found a way to stretch out Puget Sound’s shut-down pack-line defense, which leads the conference in opponents’ shooting percentage (39.8 percent).
The Pirates sank eight 3-pointers in the first half. After that, their relentless attack kept UPS on its heels.
It all added up to Whitworth’s 84-74 victory at Memorial Fieldhouse in Tacoma, marking the Spokane school’s 10th consecutive regular-season win over the Loggers.
“I think we are kind of built around our ability to shoot the ball and some of the team speed we have. A lot of times, those two things go together,” Whitworth coach Matt Logie said. “(Making those 3-pointers) allowed us to get into the paint off the dribble. Our guards did a good job of handling their initial ball pressure, but still attacking and making good decisions.”
In a back-and-forth first half, UPS (11-9, 7-4 NWC) grabbed its last lead, 36-35, on A.J. Maw’s drive up the middle with 1:42 left.
But Whitworth (16-4, 10-1) closed the half with back-to-back 3-pointers by Dustin McConnell and Colton McCargar.
At halftime, the Loggers had a decision to make — guard the perimeter shooters or pack the middle. They extended their defense, giving McConnell, Christian Jurlina and McCargar every excuse to drive into the lane and make things happen.
“The biggest thing was they were knocking down 3-pointers,” Loggers coach Justin Lunt said. “Our game plan was, let’s keep the ball in front of us and make them make tough shots — and they made tough shots.”
Five times, UPS closed a double-digit deficit to five points in the second half — the last at 67-62 with 5:04 left. But Robby Douglas hit a 3-pointer from the right corner, triggering a 9-1 Whitworth run to secure the win.
Whitman 71, at Pacific Lutheran 57: The Missionaries (14-6, 9-2) shot 56.2 percent in the first half and coasted past the Lutes (7-13, 4-7).
Whitworth 83, at UPS 71: Twenty-three turnovers did in the Loggers (13-7, 6-5 NWC) at Memorial Fieldhouse.
Kayla Johnson led Whitworth (15-5, 9-2) with 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting..
Whitman 76, at PLU 46: After surviving a close call earlier in the season in Walla Walla, the third-ranked Missionaries (20-0, 11-0) went on a 9-0 run eight minutes into the first half and walloped the Lutes (7-13, 3-8) in Parkland.