SPOKANE, Wash. – Whitworth University advanced to its 15th straight Northwest Conference tournament championship game with a 97-79 win over visiting University of Puget Sound in the semifinals on Thursday night in the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
All five starters scored in double figures for the 4th-ranked Pirates, who improved to 23-3 and advance to play top-ranked Whitman in Saturday night's NWC tournament final. The Loggers finish the season 18-7.
Ben Bishop made four straight baskets to give Whitworth an early 13-8 lead. Puget Sound fought back to tie the game 17-17 on a basket by Anthony Rumasuglia. The game was never tied again. The Pirates successfully started attacking the Loggers' press and went up 31-20 on a breakaway by Kyle Roach. Puget Sound got back within 33-28 on Max Basile's layup before Whitworth took a 48-40 lead into halftime.
"They play a unique style of press with a strong initial wave of pressure, but our guys kept their eyes up the floor and spread the ball around, which led to some easy baskets," said Pirate head coach Matt Logie.
Gabriel Chaikin's free throws pulled the Loggers to within 55-48 four minutes into the second half. It is as close as Puget Sound would get. Whitworth answered with an 8-0 run, capped by a Sam Lees three-pointer, to extend the margin to 63-48. The Pirates opened a 73-55 lead midway through the second half and appeared poised to break the game open. However, the Loggers pulled back to within 86-74 and had a chance to cut the margin to single digits. Chaikin's three-pointer was rebounded by Ben College and Kevin Crosno hit a three-pointer at the other end that sparked a game-clinching 7-0 spurt for the Pirates with less than two minutes to play. College added a trey in the final run.
Whitworth dominated the rebounding battle 53-35 and committed only 14 turnovers against the Puget Sound press.
"Going into this game we didn't want to be outworked and that played out on the glass," Logie said.
Roach, who was just named the NWC's Player of the Year, scored 21 points and dished four assists for the Pirates. Bishop added 17 points, while Jared Christy finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. College and Garrett Hull tallied 13 points each. Hull posted his second double-double of the season with 11 rebounds and added three steals.
"We always preach balance and unselfishness," Logie said. "When you have guys who care about each other and don't care who gets credit, it's really fun to watch."
First Team All-NWC honoree Jimmy Wohrer scored a game-high 22 points for Puget Sound. Easton Driessen added 16 points and Rumasuglia came off the bench for 13 points.
Whitworth will take on top-seeded Whitman in Saturday's NWC championship game in Walla Walla. Tip off is scheduled for 7:00 pm.