Pirate Women Still in the NWC Playoff Hunt

Pirate Women Still in the NWC Playoff Hunt

SPOKANE, Wash. – The Whitworth University women's basketball team heads into the final weekend of the regular season still with an outside shot of qualifying for the Northwest Conference tournament.  The Pirates will host George Fox on Friday (6:00 pm) and Lewis & Clark on Saturday (4:00 pm) and will need to win both contests.  Both games will be heard live in Spokane on KSBN 1230 am and on the internet at KSBN.net.

Check the Whitworth women's basketball schedule for other live links to this week's games.

The Pirates:  Whitworth (10-13 overall, 6-8 NWC) defeated Pacific Lutheran and lost to NWC-leading Puget Sound last weekend in Tacoma.  The Pirates are currently alone in fifth place in the league standings, two games behind Lewis & Clark with two games to play. 

Whitworth jumped out to a big early lead at Pacific Lutheran last Friday night and built the margin to as many as 20 points in the third quarter before holding on for a 72-61 victory.  Whitworth shot 49.1% (26-53) from the field and 44.4% (4-9) from three-point range.  The Pirates also finished with a 41-29 advantage in rebounds.  But Whitworth committed 27 turnovers, over half of them in the fourth quarter alone, and had to survive a strong PLU comeback attempt.  Four Pirates reached double figures in scoring, led by Jessica Thoens who had 21 points and five assists.  Grace Douglas added 20 points, making 7 her 10 shots, including 3-4 from three-point range.  Madison Moffat added a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds, while Callie Harwood also had 12 points.

On a night when Puget Sound would clinch the outright Northwest Conference title with a victory, the Pirates forced the Loggers to work hard for the accomplishment before falling 78-58 on Saturday.  Whitworth led for most of the first quarter and hung within single digits of Puget Sound for 27 minutes before the Loggers started to pull away.  The Pirates were held to 31.3% (21-67) from the field and only 23.5% (4-17) from three-point range.  Douglas led Whitworth with 14 points, while Harwood added 11 points and seven rebounds.  Erika Kuehn came off of the bench for ten points and Moffat led Whitworth in rebounding for the second night in a row with 12 boards.

Still in the hunt?:  The top four teams in the final regular season standings qualify for the Northwest Conference tournament.  Whitworth is alone in fifth place on the league table, but the Pirates are two games behind fourth place Lewis & Clark (8-6 NWC).  To qualify for the NWC tournament Whitworth will have to win both its remaining games this weekend against nationally-ranked George Fox and the Pioneers.  L&C will have to lose twice.

The Opponents:  24th-ranked George Fox is 19-4 overall and 11-3 in the NWC heading into the weekend.  The Bruins, who have won five in a row, are battling Whitman for the #2 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.  GFU continues to rely on its excellent defense to get things done.  The Bruins lead the league in steals per game (14.3) and in blocked shots per game (4.0).  Junior forward Kaitlin Johnson leads the team in scoring average (13.2 ppg) and in rebounding average (6.7 rpg).  Senior point guard Kim Frost adds 10.0 points per game while leading the Northwest Conference in assists per game (5.4) and steals per game (3.6).  Whitworth lost 90-67 at George Fox on January 21st as Callie Harwood and Grace Douglas scored 15 points each.  It was the Bruins' sixth straight win over the Pirates.

Lewis & Clark is 15-8 overall and 8-6 in the NWC heading into Friday night's game at Whitman.  This season has been quite an accomplishment for the Pioneers under first-year coach Pamela Findlay.  Coming off of a last-place finish in 2016, L&C was picked to finish last in the 2016-17 NWC preseason poll.  Last Saturday the Pioneers ended a three-game losing streak with a 72-59 win over Pacific (Ore.).  Senior Ayisat Afolabi has been having an All-NWC kind of season with averages of 16.4 points, 11.2 rebounds (first in the NWC) and 3.0 steals per game.  Junior guard Miyah Leith adds 10.3 points per contest.  Whitworth lost 72-61 to L&C in Portland, despite a double-double of 22 points and 12 rebounds from Madison Moffat.

Another Milestone for Helen:  Helen Higgs, who became the first coach in Northwest Conference history to achieve 300 career victories, earned win number 350 on February 3rd at Linfield.  Higgs earned her 300th win on February 8th, 2014 at Pacific Lutheran.  She is currently 351-236 in her 23rd season leading the Pirates.

Early Conference Start: Because the Northwest Conference basketball tournament needs to be played on February 23 and 25, there are not enough weekends available after the New Year to accommodate the full NWC schedule.  That is why the league kicked off conference play the first weekend of December.  It happens occasionally.  The last time was 2012 when Whitworth hosted Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound during the first week of December.

Callie "Hardwood":  Junior forward Callie Harwood is excelling in her second full season as a starter for the Pirates.  She is currently averaging 12.5 points, which is second on the team and ranks ninth in the conference.  She adds 5.3 rebounds per game as well.  A "smallish" post-player at 5'-9", Harwood uses her strength and deceptive speed to get by opposing defenders.  She was selected as the NWC's first women's basketball Student-Athlete of the Week for the 2016-17 season on November 21st.

Harwood started 25 of Whitworth's 26 games as a sophomore, averaging 7.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest.  She scored eight of her 12 points in the final two minutes of the game to help rally Whitworth to a 55-52 win at Whitman late in the season.

Amazing Grace:  Grace Douglas is Whitworth's leading scorer so far this season, averaging 12.7 points per contest (8th in the NWC).  She also leads Whitworth's regulars in three-pointers made per game (2.0 – 10th in the NWC) and in three-point percentage (38.7% - 8th in the NWC).  Douglas, in her first year as a full-time starter for the Bucs, scored 29 points in a win at La Verne on December 28th – the highest individual total for any Pirate player this season. 

"Thoen" the Ball Around: Jessica Thoens is in her second season as the Pirates' starting point guard.  She totaled 81 assists in 2015-16, ranking fifth in the NWC in assists per game (3.1).  She is currently the only senior among the top ten players in minutes played for the Pirates, and provides valuable leadership on the floor.  She tallied a career-high 10 assists in the win over Pacific on January 6th and leads the team in assists average (3.0).  She scored a career-high 25 points in the win at Linfield on February 3rd and is currently averaging 8.4 ppg this year. 

Not so "Little Miss Moffat":  Madison Moffat has shown that she can play much taller than her listed height of 5-7 as a starting wing for the Pirates.  She is averaging 11.5 points per game and leads the team with 7.7 rebounds per game (3rd in the NWC).  She grabbed 15 rebounds in Whitworth's win over Pacific on January 6th, setting a season-high for the Pirates and has four double-doubles this season.  She was named NWC Student-Athlete of the Week in women's basketball on January 9th

On the Air Again:  Whitworth's Northwest Conference games will be carried live this season on KSBN 1230am in Spokane.  The relationship between Pirate athletics and KSBN goes back to 1994, a span of 22 years.  Bud Nameck has taken over as the play-by-play voice of Pirate basketball this season.  Nameck comes to Whitworth with more than 30 years of experience calling basketball on the radio for Gonzaga University and Washington State.

Coming up next:  The Northwest Conference tournament takes place next week with the semifinals on Thursday and the championship on Saturday.  The top two seeds host the semifinals and the top remaining seed hosts the final.

The Coach: Now in her 23rd season at Whitworth University, Helen Higgs is the winningest and longest serving women's basketball coach in school history. She has a record of 341-223 heading into the 2016-17 season, the most wins in school history.  Her winning percentage of .605 is also the best all-time among Pirate women's basketball coaches. In 2013-14 Higgs became the first women's basketball coach in NWC history to surpass the 300-career-win mark.  She is the Dean of NWC women's basketball coaches by a full seven seasons.  Higgs currently ranks 50th in all of NCAA Division III for total number of victories by active coaches.