Caitlin Malvar welcomes all challenges — and stares down all contenders.
If coach Loree Payne simulates a last-second possession during a University of Puget Sound practice, Malvar screams loudly that she wants the basketball in her hands.
If it comes to winning a 3-point shooting contest, Malvar — who doesn’t have the prettiest form on the squad — somehow knows she can topple any of her teammates just by telling them she will do it.
And a show of toughness? Malvar isn’t afraid to dive into any scrum, or put her nose in any stressful situation.
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Malvar is a 5-foot-9 freshman from Portland. She has been fully healthy for only about two months, but she has become the team’s loudest voice.
And even though she does not put up points like Samone Jackson, Elizabeth Prewitt or Jamie Lange, her contributions are just as valuable to the sixth-ranked Loggers’ chances of advancing far in the postseason. UPS hosts Lewis & Clark on Thursday night in the Northwest Conference tournament semifinals.
“She is the most fierce competitor I’ve ever coached, at any level,” said Payne, who not only played at the University of Washington but was an assistant at the University of Portland. “She will make a free throw drill at practice the most competitive thing she does.
“She wants to win. She has a winner’s mentality.”
That UW tie directly led Payne to her latest young standout.
While she was at Portland, Payne played on the same team in a competitive adult league with Jocelyn (McIntire) Malvar, who is one of the best 3-point shooters in the Huskies’ history (1989-91). Jocelyn married Caesar Malvar, a former honorable mention wide receiver at UW in 1989.
“Everything was competitive,” Caitlin Malvar said. “And me and my mom are virtually the same exact person.”
Coming out of West Linn High School, Malvar turned away college opportunities at bigger universities to attend UPS.
“The No. 1 thing I hear from people now is how much I play like my mom,” Malvar said. “I say the same things. I do the same things. And I mostly have the same attitude on the court.”
Payne knew her new point guard was a gem the day Malvar showed up. But the coach had to temper expectations when the teenager came down with a sore foot right before the team’s first exhibition game in early November.
Six weeks later, Malvar became a fixture in the starting backcourt with Jackson. And by the second half of conference play, she seemed to be the ballhandler that Payne trusted most in key situations.
“I also got my speed and my hops from my mom, which isn’t much,” Malvar said with a chuckle. “So I have to use my mind. I am a very high basketball-IQ person. I like to make basketball as easy as it possibly can be.”
Payne, who was named the NWC coach of the year Wednesday, isn’t ready to concede that Malvar has become her primary point guard over Jackson. Both do different things.
“Samone is incredibly quick, rushes the ball up and gets us running,” Payne said. “Cat has maybe a little bit more composure. How they operate is just very different, which gives us a multi-dimensional attack preparing for different teams.”
In late January, Malvar ranked fourth in NCAA Division III in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.93 to 1). She is down to 16th heading into the playoff matchup against Lewis & Clark.
“Everyone loves scoring, but I love knowing that when my teammate gets open, I was able to get it to them for an easy shot,” Malvar said.
NO. 4 SEED LEWIS & CLARK (16-9) AT NO. 1 SEED PUGET SOUND (24-1)
7 p.m. Thursday, Memorial Fieldhouse, Tacoma
Season series: The Loggers won both games — 85-58 on Jan. 7 at home and 74-57 on Feb. 3 in Portland.
Statistical leaders: L&C – F Ayisat Afolabi (16.6 ppg, 11.0 rpg) and G Deja Nicholas (2.6 apg). UPS – G Samone Jackson (17.4 ppg), C Jamie Lange (9.0 rpg) and G Caitlin Malvar (3.8 apg).
The skinny: For a third consecutive season, the sixth-ranked Loggers will host a NWC semifinal game, defeating Whitworth in 2015, and Whitman last season. To control the Pioneers, it starts and ends with stopping Afolabi, arguably the league’s most athletic inside-outside wing. If she gets going on the interior, that should open up shots for long-range shooters Sarah Anderson and Miyah Leith. The Pioneers might be able to run at times with UPS, but the bigger issue is matching up with Lange, who has been the leading scorer in both matchups (15 points in Tacoma; 17 points in Portland). The freshman from Sumner has been playing at an elite level the second half of the conference season.
TNT pick: UPS, 80-66.