The University of Puget Sound men’s basketball team went into the final weekend of the regular season knowing they needed one win to have a chance to finish in fourth place and advance into the Northwest Conference tournament.
That quest becomes a lot more difficult after Friday night’s 85-73 loss to Whitman. Now the Loggers need a victory over first place Whitworth on Saturday — and a few other results around the conference to break their way — in order to reach the tournament.
“I guess we still have a chance, but (Saturday) is all about the seniors,” said Puget Sound coach Justin Lunt. “We’re going to do the best we can to make sure the seniors go out on the right note.”
Whitman (19-5, 13-2 NWC) used its pressure defense to force 13 first-half turnovers, while hitting 10-of-15 3-pointers, to build a 52-33 lead at intermission.
“We didn’t contest shots very well, and they came out and played extremely well,” Lunt said. “They were poised and ready for us.”
The Loggers closed off the perimeter and cut down on turnovers in the second half, pulling within eight points. Nick Holden made a put-back and ensuing free throw to bring the score to 76-68 with three minutes remaining.
Puget Sound (12-11, 7-8 NWC) then had three opportunities to cut the deficit to five or six, but they were unable to take advantage.
Holden completed his 11th double-double of the season. The senior scored 29 points — just two shy of his career high — and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Loggers.
Pressure defense and 3-point shooting are staples of Whitman coach Eric Bridgeland, who used those same principals to lead Puget Sound to three consecutive NWC championships from 2004-2006.
Lunt was an assistant to Bridgeland during the championship seasons, and last year his Loggers upset Whitman in the conference tournament.
Now the Loggers are hoping Bridgeland didn’t return the favor.
Christian Jurlina scored 14 points to lead Whitworth (21-3, 14-1), while Derek Isaak added 12. The Pirates started the second half on a 9-0 run, holding PLU scoreless for the first 5:18.
Emily Sheldon (16 points), Amanda Forshay (14), Katy Ainslie (13) and Ashley Agcaoili (11) each started and reached double figures. Fifth starter Alexis Noren scored nine.
Defending NWC player of the year Heather Johns’ 26 points led Whitman (15-9, 10-5 NWC), which lost the national title game last season.
No. 21 Puget Sound (21-3, 12-3) hosts No. 20 Whitworth at 4 p.m. Saturday. The winner will claim the No. 2 seed and an opening home game in the NWC tourney.
Bailey Raines’ 12 points led PLU (5-19, 2-13).