Casey Kushiyama thought he was walking into a den of diamonds at the University of Puget Sound.
And then shortly after he took the women’s basketball coaching job, the team’s returning two point guards — Samone Jackson and Caitlin Malvar — left the program.
So it has taken Kushiyama extra time, love and care developing new primary ball-handlers.
It has been an up and down season for the defending Northwest Conference champions, but the Loggers snapped their five-game skid with a 65-54 over rival Pacific Lutheran on Wednesday night at Memorial Fieldhouse.
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Jamie Lange led UPS (7-9, 2-5 in NWC) with 16 points and 17 rebounds. Elizabeth Prewitt and Cassidy Daugherty added 13 points apiece for the Loggers, who ran their winning streak in the series to 18 games in a row.
Madison Salisbury paced the Lutes (4-12, 0-7) with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
If UPS is going to make a push over the next six weeks in reaching the conference tournament, with a chance to return to the NCAA Division III championships, the team will have to continue to see improvement from its three new point guards — starter Mara Henderson and backups RaeAnn Allen and Josephine Huletz.
“That has definitely been the hardest part of this entire process, to develop three other kids because they are so different — three different body types with three different skill sets,” Kushiyama said. “They all ... had a little bit of (point guard) experience in high school. so it’s been a matter of coming in a nurturing it.”
In the fourth quarter, the Loggers broke away from a 48-48 game behind their defense — and the playmaking of Allen, a 5-foot-11 sophomore from Washougal.
Allen led the team’s decisive 7-0 run by feeding Prewitt and Kirstin Hafernan for easy baskets inside as UPS grabbed a 55-48 lead with 6:01 to go.
The Lutes made two of 13 field goals in the fourth quarter, right after they had 9-of-12 shooting in the third quarter.
“It has been that way for the past five games,” PLU coach Jennifer Childress said. “We are in a position where wins are within reach. It comes down to sticking with what we’ve been doing.”
Despite the loss, the Lutes are vastly improved over last season. They are one of the best defensive squads in the conference. Now, they have to develop a go-to scorer. Salisbury, a freshman from Puyallup, might be that player.
At UPS 98, PLU 78: Jimmy Wohrer scored a game-high 19 points, and the high-flying Loggers won for the seventh time in their past eight meetings against the Lutes in Tacoma.
Stellan Roberts added 18 for UPS (11-4, 4-3 in NWC), which collected 27 offensive rebounds — and forced 34 PLU turnovers.
“One, it was just great to be back home. I thought our guys did some really good things,” UPS coach Justin Lunt said. “We still got a little outside of ourselves. We could have been a lot cleaner.”
PLU (4-11, 1-6) was led by Zac Webb’s 15 points. Sean McLaughlin added 14.