SPOKANE, Wash. – Only three nights after rolling up its best offensive performance of the season, the Whitworth men's basketball team turned up the defense in a 61-48 win over visiting UC Santa Cruz in a non-conference men's basketball game on Saturday night in the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
The 15th-ranked Pirates (3-1), who shot nearly 60% from the field in a 90-75 win at Montana Tech on Wednesday night, held the Banana Slugs (2-5) to 36% shooting from the field and finished with a 42-30 edge in rebounding.
"We knew coming in that our defense had to improve and set some goals which I was pleased we were able to achieve," said Pirate head coach Matt Logie. "Anytime you hold a team to 36% shooting and under 50 Pts you are going to have a great chance to win."
George Valle led Whitworth in scoring for the second straight game with 17 points. Colton McCargar added eight points and grabbed a career-high nine rebounds.
UCSC used a 9-0 run in the early minutes to grab a 12-8 lead after a jumper by Trent Reeves. It was the Banana Slug's largest lead of the game. The teams traded leads three times with UCSC taking its final lead at 19-17 on a three-pointer by James Hidalgo. But Mack Larkin's basket sparked an 8-0 run for Whitworth and the Pirates would eventually take a 31-23 lead into the locker rooms at halftime.
UCSC opened the second half with a three-pointer by Jared Ponce and a basket by James Townsend to cut the lead to three. The Slugs were still within 39-35 just over five minutes into the second period. But then Whitworth went on another 8-0 spurt to take its first double-digit lead of the half. Hank Aldous and Valle each hit threes in the run. Two free throws by McCargar with under a minute to play gave the Pirates their largest lead of the game at 61-45.
Valle was 4-8 from the field and 7-10 from the free throw line. He was the only Pirate in double figures, but nine different Whitworth players scored a basket. The Bucs made 43% (20-47) from the field and 33% (5-15) from three point range. Whitworth also struggled from the free throw line, making only 55% (16-29).
"George Valle really gave us a great offensive spark inside and out in the second half," Logie said.
But the Pirate defense held UCSC to 36% (20-55) from the field, 24% (5-21) from three-point range. Reeves led the Banana Slugs with 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists, while Hidalgo came off of the bench for seven points.
Whitworth won its 12th straight game against UCSC.
The Pirates will open Northwest Conference play next weekend at home against Pacific Lutheran (Friday) and Puget Sound (Saturday).