SPOKANE, Wash. – In a very real way the Northwest Conference playoffs are beginning this week when Lewis & Clark and Pacific (Ore.) visit the Whitworth Fieldhouse to take on the third-ranked Pirates in the midst of a tight battle for NWC tournament berths and seeding. Both games are schedule to tip off at 8:00 pm as the second halves of women's and men's doubleheaders. Also, Friday's game will be the final regular season SWX broadcast. KSBN 1230am will carry both games live.
Live links to this weekend's games against L&C and Pacific can be found here:
The Pirates: Whitworth comes into the week with an 18-1 overall record and a 10-0 mark in the NWC. The Pirates have won 18 games in a row, the third-longest streak in team history, and are only two wins away from posting their eighth consecutive 20-win season.
Whitworth turned a see-saw contest at Puget Sound into a 62-53 victory over the Loggers on Friday night. The Pirates jumped ahead 16-3 after making seven of their first eight shots, then saw UPS go on a 24-5 run to take a 27-21 lead. Trailing 35-31 early in the second half, Whitworth used a 10-0 run to grab the lead. The game was tied 43-43 with just over seven minutes to go and the Pirates outscored the Loggers 19-10 the rest of the way. George Valle scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds to go along with three steals. Dustin McConnell added 13 points and Taylor Farnsworth scored 11. Whitworth earned its ninth straight win over Puget Sound.
The Pirates survived a hard-fought game at Pacific Lutheran on Saturday, coming away with a 71-68 win over the Lutes. Trailing 66-62 with less than two minutes to play, Whitworth outscored PLU 7-0 to take a lead it would never led go. Dustin McConnell scored the go-ahead basket with 25 seconds left, then hit the clinching free throws with five seconds on the clock. Four Pirates reached double figures in scoring to overcome a 25-point night by PLU's Cameron Schilling. McConnell finished with 17 points while Wade Gebbers had 14 points. George Valle had 13 points and another three steals. Taylor Farnsworth scored all 13 of his points in the second half and led the team with five rebounds. Whitworth earned its 16th win in a row over the Lutes.
The Opponents: Lewis & Clark comes into Friday's game as the second-hottest team in the Northwest Conference. The Pioneers are 13-6 overall and 7-3 (second place) in the NWC, winners of six games in a row since their 78-66 lost at home to Whitworth on December 5th. Colton McCargar had 18 points and six rebounds for the Pirates in that game. Last week L&C earned a 72-71 win at George Fox on Friday night, then defeated Linfield 61-45 at home on Saturday. The Pioneers lead the conference in two key statistical categories: They take good care of the ball and commit only 11.8 turnovers per game. They are also holding opponents to a conference-best 40.6 team field goal percentage. Dinari Foreman, a former L&C All-American, continues his second season as head coach. Seniors James Hollins and Ross Erickson lead the Pioneers in scoring. Hollins is averaging 16.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game after coming back from an off-season knee injury part of the way into the season. Erickson adds 14.1 points and 6.6 boards per game. Whitworth has won the last 10 games between the schools.
Pacific is 11-7 overall and 5-4 in the NWC heading into a Friday night game at Whitman. The Boxers are only a half game behind Whitman and George Fox in for third/fourth place in the conference standings. Pacific survived a difficult and busy three-game stretch last week. The Boxers won 77-69 at George Fox on Tuesday, then won 97-96 in overtime at Willamette on Friday. GFU returned the favor with an 85-76 win at Pacific on Saturday. The Boxers continue to lead the NWC in rebound margin (+6.7) and are third in steals per game (7.4). Tim Cleary continues his third season coaching at Pacific. Freshman guard Danny Brakebush is putting together an all-conference kind of season. He averages 16.1 points per game and is leading the NWC in three-point percentage (44.6). Senior guard Colin Wester adds 15.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. In the teams' first meeting Whitworth opened up a 17-point second-half lead before withstanding a strong Boxer rally. The Pirates held on to win 80-77 on Jan. 4th in Forest Grove behind Taylor Farnsworth's 29 points and seven rebounds. Whitworth has won the last nine games in the series.
Both L&C and Pacific are in a tight battle with George Fox (6-4), Whitman (6-4) and Willamette (4-5) for spots in the NWC tournament at the end of the season. The top four teams will make it to the conference tournament on Feb. 21 and 23.
National Raking: Whitworth moved up to third in this week's D3hoops.com top-25 poll (Jan. 28th). Rochester (18-0) is the new #1 team, followed by previous #1 St. Thomas (18-1) at #2. The Pirates have steadily moved up the rankings over the last seven weeks, corresponding with the 18-game winning streak. Going back to the 2009-10 season, Whitworth has been ranked in the D3hoops.com top-25 for 45 consecutive polls.
NWC Leaders: Whitworth leads the Northwest Conference, or ranks second, this season in several team statistical categories. To the Pirates' credit, those statistical rankings come on both ends of the floor. They include:
2nd – Points per game: 76.1
1st - Team FG%: 49.6
1st – Team 3pt%: 37.7
1st - Team FT%: 73.0
1st – Fewest Fouls Per Game: 14.2
1st - Defensive Points Per Game: 64.1
1st – Opponent FG%: 41.7
Efficiency is the key: Whitworth ranks dead last in the Northwest Conference in average number of field goals attempted per game (54.6). But the Pirates rank second in field goals made per contest (27.1). Those two numbers lead to Whitworth's NWC-best team field goal percentage of 49.6, which leads the league by nearly five percentage points over second place.
Total Team Effort: Whitworth currently has a 18-1 record and ranks highly in many NWC team statistical categories. This all comes despite the fact that the Pirates barely have a player crack the top 10 individually in scoring and rebounding. Dustin McConnell currently ranks 10th in the NWC in points per game, while Taylor Farnsworth ranks 14th in rebounds per contest. More telling to the Pirates' success is the fact that Wade Gebbers leads the NWC in assists per game and McConnell ranks eighth.
NWC Favorites: Whitworth was picked first in the Northwest Conference preseason coaches poll. The Pirates picked up seven of nine first place votes and 70 total points. Whitman was second in the poll with two first place votes and 54 points.
Four SWX Broadcasts: Local cable station SWX will carry four Whitworth men's basketball games live this season: Dec. 8 vs. Puget Sound; Dec. 22 vs. Simpson; Jan. 18 vs. Willamette; and Feb. 1 vs. Lewis & Clark. SWX stands for Sports & Weather Right Now and is owned by local NBC affiliate KHQ channel 6. SWX can be seen both over-the-air and through some cable services in the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene, Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, and Yakima viewership areas. In the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene area, SWX is found on digital channel 6.2, on Comcast channel 115 in Spokane and Time Warner channel 306 in North Idaho. Click here for a complete list of station numbers throughout the Eastern Washington/North Idaho region.
Back on KSBN: Local radio station KSBN (1230am) will carry all remaining regular season Pirate games, and any post-season contests. The relationship between Pirate athletics and KSBN goes back to 1994, a span of almost 20 years. Bob Castle, whose voice has become synonymous with Whitworth athletics on the radio, is back as the voice of the Pirates in 2012-13. Bob has called Whitworth games for the past 12 seasons, as well as in 1997-98. Bob has 20 years in radio and his experience as a sports broadcaster includes stints as the voice of Spokane Indians Baseball, Gonzaga University baseball and Washington State women's basketball.
Team Captains: The members of the Whitworth basketball team and coaching staff have voted Wade Gebbers, Mack Larkin and Zach Payne as team captains for the 2012-13 season. It is the second season in a row that Gebbers has been voted as a team captain.
Ten, Again: The Dec 31st win over Hamline was the Pirates' tenth victory in a row this season. It marks the fourth consecutive year that Whitworth has put together a winning streak of at least 10 in a row. The current streak of 18 wins in a row ranks as the third-longest all-time at Whitworth. Last year the Pirates won 13 straight games late in the season. In 2010-11 the team won its first 23 in a row to ascend to the #1 ranking in Division III basketball. And in 2009-10 the Bucs put together a school-record 25 game winning streak. Whitworth has only had five other seasons in its history with winning streaks of at least ten: 2006-07 (13 in a row); 2002-03 (12 in a row); 1995-96 (13 in a row); 1991-92 (10 in a row); 1989-90 (11 in a row).
Twenty for Seven: Whitworth extended its school record for consecutive seasons with at least 20 victories to seven in 2011-12. Prior to this current streak, the most 20-win seasons in a row the Pirates had ever had was two (on three different occasions).
Rolling On: The Bucs have won 97 of their last 106 games, an amazing run of success matched by few other college teams at any level. Within the Northwest Conference, Whitworth has won 62 of its last 64 – including the six wins from the last three NWC tournaments.
Home-Sweet-Home: Whitworth has been stellar in the Fieldhouse throughout the 1990's and 2000's. Since the 2001-02 season the Pirates are 122-13 (.904) in the Whitworth Fieldhouse. Since the 2005-06 season, the Bucs are 89-6 (.937) at home. During the decade of the 1990s the Pirates won more than 80% of their games played at home.
The Pirates have had two home-court winning streaks of more than 40 games since 1990. A 41-game home court winning streak from early 2009 until December of 2011 was the second-longest in Pirate history. The school record for consecutive home victories is 43, beginning during the 1994-95 season and ending during the 1997-98 season.
Road Warriors: As good as Whitworth is at home, the Pirates have been even better away from the Whitworth Fieldhouse in the last two seasons. Since the start of the 11-12 season, Whitworth is 23-2 away from home, 16-0 in true road games.
Wade Leading the Way: Point guard Wade Gebbers is the heart that drives the Pirate engine on the basketball floor. He has battled through persistent injuries this season to average 10.6 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. He also leads the NWC in assists per contest (3.5) this season. He scored 23 points in the season-opener against St. Thomas and 22 points in the comeback win over Whitman on Jan. 8th.
Gebbers earned Second Team All-Northwest Conference last season after averaging 12.8 points per game. He led the team in assists per game (3.5), which ranked third in the NWC. Gebbers led the league in three-pointers made per game (2.8) and ranked third in the league in three-point percentage (42.1). He scored a career-high 26 points on January 17th against Whitman.
In 2010-11 Gebbers averaged 3.35 assists per game (5th in the NWC) and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.07 - 1 was third highest in the league. He scored a season-high 20 points on Feb. 12, 2011 against George Fox, all in the second half, to lead Whitworth back from a three-point halftime deficit to an 89-66 win.
The Glue Guy: Successful Whitworth teams have always had the unsung hero who does all the little things that help the team succeed, but don't always show up in the box scores. In recent years that role has been filled by the likes of Clay Gebbers ('11), Calvin Jurich ('09), and Mike Larkin ('05). Now Mack Larkin has stepped into that role. Larkin is most often tasked with guarding the opponent's best offensive player. So far this season he has averaged 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game while making 53% of his shots from the field and 40% from three-point range. He scored a career-high 17 points in the win over Simpson on December 22nd.
Last season he averaged 7.0 points and 3.8 rebounds with 39 assists and 19 steals, despite missing four games in early January after suffering a mild concussion in practice.
Driving Mr. Dusty: Dustin McConnell is dangerous from three-point range, making better than 42% of his shots from beyond the arc this season. But he is even harder on opposing defenses with his hard drives to the basket, often getting the shot to go down while drawing a foul. So far this season he is averaging a team-best 13.7 points and adding 2.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game. He had a career-high 24 points in Whitworth's win over Whitman on January 8th and had 23 points in the win over Willamette (Jan. 18th).
He ended up with a 7.7 scoring average last winter after taking over as a starter eight games into the season. He made 38% of his attempts from three-point range.
Frosh Phenom: George Valle has already made a huge impact in his first season with the Pirates. He is second on the team in scoring average (11.3 ppg) and has made 49% of his shots from the field. He has already been selected as a Northwest Conference Student-Athlete of the Week in men's basketball (Dec. 4). His career-high is 23 points in the win at Montana Tech and he scored the game-winning basket and free throw at George Fox on January 11th.
Mr. Reliable: Colton McCargar does everything asked of him, whether he is in the starting lineup or the first player off of the bench. He is averaging 10.8 points and adds 4.2 rebounds per game. He is making over 44% of his three-point tries so far this season, which leads the team and ranks second in the NWC. He scored a career-high 19 points in the win over Whitman (Jan. 8) and has had 18 points in the wins over Puget Sound (Dec. 8) and Lewis & Clark (Jan. 5).
Block Party: Taylor Farnsworth is growing into his role as the Pirates' starting post player this season. He leads the team by a wide margin in blocked shots (17). His season averages are up to 9.9 ppg and 5.1 rpg, which leads the team. He is making 60.5% of his shots from the field, which currently ranks third in the Northwest Conference. He scored a career-high 29 points in the win at Pacific (Jan. 4), the team's highest single-game output so far this season.
Coming up next Week: Whitworth will play at Whitman next Tuesday (Feb. 5) then host George Fox on Saturday, Feb. 9th.
The Coach: Matt Logie led Whitworth to a 26-4 record in 2011-12, his first season as coach of the Pirates. He was also selected as the NWC Coach of the Year by his peers after directing the Pirates to a 15-1 conference mark and their sixth straight NWC tournament championship.
Logie previously worked eight seasons as an assistant coach at Lehigh University (Pa.) his alma-mater. He also spent a season as an assistant coach at Kent State. In 2010 Logie was named as the top Patriot League Assistant Coach in men's basketball in a Foxsports.com Coaches Poll and in 2011 he was recognized as one of the top 50 assistants in Mid-to-Low Major college basketball by Hoopscoop on-line magazine. Logie is originally from Mercer Island, Washington where he won a pair of state basketball championships while playing for his grandfather, Ed Pepple, a legend in Washington's high school ranks who won 952 games and four state titles in 49 years of coaching.