It Looks Like Moving Week for Whitworth's Women

Kendra Knutsen had 11 steals in two games last week at PLU and UPS.

SPOKANE, Wash. – It is moving week for the Whitworth women's basketball team.  With three upcoming home games over a five-day period, the Pirates have a chance to make a move up the Northwest Conference standings.  But the challenge will be significant, because all three of Whitworth's opponents have their own designs on making the four-team NWC tournament.

The Pirates will host Pacific University on Friday night, Linfield College on Saturday and Whitman College on Tuesday.  All three games will tip off at 6:00 p.m.

Whitworth is coming off of a split on its trip to Tacoma.

The Pirates: Five players reached double figures in scoring to help Whitworth earn its first victory (80-67) at Pacific Lutheran since 1994, ending an 18-game road losing streak to the Lutes.  The Pirates outscored PLU 27-13 over the final 12 minutes of the game.  Whitworth made 46% (12-26) of its three-point tries and forced 19 Lute turnovers.  Emily Guthrie hit five three-pointers and finished with 19 points while dishing six assists.  Kayla Johnson also scored 19 points.  Lexi Belcher scored 16, including some big shots down the stretch.  Jamie Lyons and Lauren Picha each tallied ten points and Lyons led Whitworth with eight rebounds.  First-year guard Kendra Knutsen had six steals in the game.

Whitworth seemed on the verge of pulling off its first-ever NWC road sweep in Tacoma when Guthrie nailed a three-pointer to give the Pirates a 45-38 lead in the second half.  But Puget Sound answered with a 16-3 run and went on to defeat the Bucs 74-68.  Belcher scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.  Picha finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists.  Knutsen added five more steals to her weekend total.

The Pirates have been able to score the basketball this season.  As a team Whitworth leads the NWC in three-pointers made per game (7.8 – which ranks 10th in all of NCAA Division III).  The Bucs also rank second in the conference in points per game (70.1) and assists per game (14.7).

Date

Time

Game

Live Coverage

Jan. 13

6:00 pm

vs. Pacific (Ore.)

Live Stats / Live Video

Jan. 14

6:00 pm

vs. Linfield

Live Stats / Live Video

Jan. 17

6:00 pm

vs. Whitman

Live Stats / Live Video

 

The Opponents: Pacific (Ore.), off to one of the team's best starts in school history, comes into the week with an overall record of 9-3 and an NWC mark of 2-2.  Last weekend the Boxers won 72-52 at Willamette on Friday before falling 65-55 at home to 3rd-ranked George Fox on Saturday.  Pacific is very balanced offensively and defensively – shooting 42.9% from the field as a team and forcing 12.6 steals per game.  Both figures rank second in the conference.  Senior forward Erica Schultz averages a team-leading 14.6 points per game, while junior forward Paige Jensen adds 12.2 points and ranks third in the NWC in rebounding (8.7 rpg).  Last season Whitworth defeated Pacific 74-52 in Spokane, but the Boxers won 61-59 in overtime in Forest Grove at the end of the season.

Linfield heads into the weekend 8-5 overall and 2-2 in the NWC (prior to a Friday night game at Whitman).  Last weekend the Wildcats lost 57-46 at 8th-ranked Lewis & Clark before bouncing back to win 78-61 at Willamette.  Senior Gretchen Owens leads the NWC in scoring by a wide margin, averaging 20.8 ppg.  But she is much more than a scorer as she also leads her team in assists (3.0 per game) and steals (1.8 per game).  Sophomore forward Kaely Maltman adds 14.2 points per contest.  As a team Linfield shoots a very strong field goal percentage of 41.5%.  Last season the Wildcats blew away the Pirates 53-36 in McMinnville in early December, but Whitworth came back with a midseason 65-58 victory in Spokane.

Whitman is 6-7 overall, 2-2 in the NWC heading into this weekend's games against Linfield and Pacific.  The Missionaries accomplished what the Pirates just missed last weekend – defeating both Puget Sound (76-68) and Pacific Lutheran (64-48) on the road.  Whitman is the best free throw shooting team in the NWC, making 76%.  The Missionaries also commit the fewest turnovers per game (14.0).  Much of the reason for that success is the stellar play of senior point guard Janele Peterson, who averages 12.2 points, 3.0 assists and 1.9 steals per game.  Sophomore forward Megan White leads the team in rebounding (7.8 rpg).  Last winter Whitworth defeated Whitman 66-63 in Spokane, but the Missionaries topped the Pirates 74-61 in Walla Walla.

NWC Standings: With nationally-ranked George Fox and Lewis & Clark seemingly setting the pace at or near the top of the Northwest Conference women's basketball standings, the middle remains very muddled after only two full weeks of league games.  Puget Sound is 3-1 in the NWC, but the Loggers have not played either of the top-ranked teams.  All three of Whitworth's upcoming opponents follow at 2-2 in the NWC, while the Pirates are 1-3.  The top four teams in the final conference standings will make the 2012 NWC tournament.  Click here for the complete NWC women's basketball standings.

Lexi Leads 'Em: Lexi Belcher has been the Pirates' leading scorer this season, leading the team in total points in eight of the team's 13 games.  Belcher is averaging 15.5 points per contest, which ranks second in the NWC.  She also ranks among the conference leaders in all three shooting categories: three-point percentage (34.5 / 10th), free throw percentage (73.4 / 9th) and field goal percentage (45.9 / 9th). Belcher's 21 points in the game at Puget Sound was a career-high, topping the previous total of 20 points which she had accomplished three times.

More than Just a Shooter: Emily Guthrie earned Second Team All-NWC honors last season after ranking among the league leaders in both three-point percentage and three-pointers made per game and leading the Pirates in scoring average. But she is proving that she is more than a shooter this season. While averaging 12.7 points per game, Guthrie has also added 3.2 assists per contest (4th in the NWC) and grabs 4.5 rebounds per game. But Guthrie is still the most dangerous three-point shooter in the Northwest Conference, leading the lead in three-pointers made per game (2.9 – 15th in NCAA DIII) and making  38.8% of her attempts from beyond the arc (4th in the league).  She tied a school record with eight threes made in the win over Lancaster Bible and her 29 points in that game surpassed her previous career-high of 21 points set in last season's win over Westminster.

Picha Breaks Out: Lauren Picha is having a breakthrough season for the Pirates, averaging 10.0 points per game this season. Her 27 points in the win at Evergreen State on November 22nd is the second-highest individual total for any Whitworth player in 2011-12.

Kayla Gets it Done: Kayla Johnson does much of the dirty work for the Whitworth basketball team this season. She is averaging 10.2 points per game, but is not afraid to mix up her 5'-8" frame inside with bigger players. She leads the team (and ranks sixth in the NWC) in rebounding (7.7 rpg) and steals (1.8 spg ).

Taylor Returns to the Team: Taylor Taylor is back with the team.  The senior forward rejoined the team at the beginning of Jan Term after spending the fall semester in Germany with her husband (and former Pirate All-American) Michael Taylor, who is playing professionally.  Last year she averaged 10.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for the Pirates.

Three SWX Broadcasts: Local cable station SWX will carry three Whitworth women's games live this season, including this coming Tuesday's game against Whitman. John Fritz will provide play by play, while former Whitworth star and men's all-time leading scorer Bryan Depew gives color commentary. 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.

Up Next: Following Tuesday's home game against Whitman, Whitworth will travel to Salem, Oregon to take on Willamette the following Friday (Jan. 20th).  That game will be heard live on KSBN 1230am and KSBN.net.

The Coach: Helen Higgs is in her 18th season at Whitworth and is the winningest women's basketball coach in school history. She has a record of 257-186 during her tenure as the Pirate head coach. Her current winning percentage of .580 is also the best all-time among Pirate women's basketball coaches. She has been named Northwest Conference Coach of the Year three times.

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