PLU Heads East Looking To Continue Winning Ways
THIS WEEK: The Pacific Lutheran University men's basketball team hits the road this weekend for two important games east of the mountains against Whitman College and Whitworth University. Pacific Lutheran currently sits in a three-way tie for second-place in the conference standings with Whitman and the University of Puget Sound by way of a 7-3 mark in Northwest Conference action. The Lutes, who post an overall record of 10-9 on the season, have won five of their last six games and look to be playing their best baseketball of the season. Friday night, PLU travels to Walla Walla to take on the Whitman College Missionaries. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. The next night, the Lutes head to Spokane for a matchup with the No. 10-ranked Whitworth Pirates. Saturday night's game is scheduled for 6 p.m.
STREAKING LUTES: During Pacific Lutheran's five wins (in six games) dating back to Jan. 10, PLU has averaged a margin of victory of 16 points per win. The Lutes lone loss since the middle of January came in a heart-breaking, last-second 53-52 decision on the road to the hands of George Fox.
CONTI STANDS ALONE: Last Saturday night, in the Lutes 89-78 victory over Willamette University, senior point guard James Conti registered his 163rd career steal placing atop the PLU career record books. Conti surpassed PLU Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Don Brown, who swiped 162 balls in his illustrious career which lasted from 1987 to 1991. In his final season in the black-and-gold, James is putting together an all-conference type of season. The guard leads the NWC in steals (47) and assists (80). In addition, he is averaging 13.3 points per game, which is tied for the team lead with junior Cameron Schilling.
PLU AMONG NATIONAL LEADERS IN FEWEST TURNOVERS: Pacific Lutheran ranks 11th in Division III men's basketball in fewest turnovers per game with 11.1. Additionally, the Lutes are 28th in turnover margin with a +4.3, and the team is 38th in turnover-to-assist ratio at 1.18. The previous note mentioned that James Conti has moved to the top of the all-time PLU steals list. He currently ranks 37th in the country with 2.5 steals per game.
TWO TURNOVERS: Lost to some observers in Pacific Lutheran's home win over Willamette on Jan. 28 was the fact that the Lutes turned the ball over only two times, both of those coming in the second half. That is the fewest turnovers in a game of any Northwest Conference team this year, and a quick survey of league sports information directors indicate that it might have tied a conference record for fewest turnovers. Still in the process of checking the PLU men's basketball single-game record for fewest turnovers, so stay tuned for more information.
ON A MISSION WITH WHITMAN: With a 14-5 overall record on the season, the Whitman College Missionaries have won six of their last seven games. Sitting in a tie in the conference standing with the Lutes, Friday night's match up will be crucial as both programs are pressing for NWC playoff seeds. Whitman is led by forward David Michaels. Averaging 18.9 points per contest, Michaels ranks second in the NWC. The senior also ranks third in the NWC with a three-point shooting percentage of .442. Last time PLU and WC met, the Missionaries escaped Olson Auditorium with a 58-57 win. Michaels led all scorers in the game with 19 points in only 28 minutes.
SCOUTING THE PIRATES: Two-time defending conference champion Whitworth University stands on top of the NWC standings by way of a 9-1 mark in conference play. Holding the No. 10 spot in this week's D3hoops.com Top 25 poll, the Pirates have been a mainstay in the Top 25 all season. The Pirates lone conference loss came back on Jan. 17 when Whitworth dropped a 77-66 decision to Whitman. Senior tandem Felix Friedt and Idris Lasisi lead the Bucs in the 2011-12 season and are averaging 16.8 and 16.2 points per contest, respectively. Junior guard Wade Gebbers adds 14.4 ppg to complement the production from Friedt and Lasisi. Earlier this season in Parkland, PLU and WU played a thrilling 2OT game that saw the Pirates come out with the win by a score of 103-94. Whitworth had six players in the game score in double figures.
STILL THINKING PINK: Pacific Lutheran has already hosted Think Pink Breast Cancer Awareness and Coaches Vs. Cancer events at home games this year, but the PLU women's and men's players, coaches and fans will continue their fight against cancer when PLU plays at the University of Puget Sound on Tuesday, Feb. 7. The PLU coaches have agreed to have their players wear their pink gear to show support for the mother of PLU women's player Shelly Kilcup, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2011. Additionally, the Pacific Lutheran players will show their support for Stana Landon, a Puget Sound assistant athletic trainer, who is fighting her second battle against breast cancer. Stana is the best friend of PLU assistant athletic trainer Gen Ludwig. So PLU fans, if you plan to attend either or both Feb. 7 games, make sure to wear your pink to show your support of Mrs. Kilcup and Stana Landon. As a side note, pink ribbons will be sold at the game for $1 each in order to help with Stana's medical bills.
PLU 89, WILLAMETTE 78: On paper, Saturday night's Northwest Conference men's basketball contest in Olson Auditorium between second-place Pacific Lutheran and last-place - and winless - Willamette would figure to end in a blowout. Such was not the case, however, as the host Lutes had to scrap (which is something they do well) to finally put down the Bearcats, 89-78. With the win, Pacific Lutheran improves to 7-3 in the conference, good for a three-way tie for second with Whitman and Puget Sound, and to 10-9 overall. Willamette is now 0-10 in the conference and 2-17 for the season. Willamette senior wing Taylor Mounts took it on himself to keep his team in the game, and his variety of jump shots, three-point bombs and points near the basket totaled up to 30 points on 13-for-23 shooting. He also had a strong game on the boards, pulling down all 12 of his rebounds on the defensive end of the floor. Mounts wasn't enough for the Bearcats to stave off their 10th consecutive conference loss, however, because the scrappy Lutes refused to let the visitors pull off the upset. Led by Cameron Schilling with 19 points, PLU put four players in the double-figure scoring column. Drew Earnest scored 18 points, Cameron Reister came off the bench to tally 15, including 4-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc, and James Conti finished with 12 points to go along with seven assists. Schilling led the Lutes with nine rebounds. All 10 PLU players who saw action scored at least one point. More impressive than any PLU statistics were the turnover numbers. After not turning the ball over in the opening half, the Lutes finished the game with just two turnovers. The two squads battled on nearly equal terms for the majority of the game, and there were six ties and eight leads changes in the first half alone. Willamette took a 10-6 lead three minutes into the game and later led by as many as five points, 19-14, on Derek Newhof's three-point shot with 13:13 left in the opening half. PLU trailed until the seven minute mark when Reister drained a trey to put the Lutes on top, 33-32, and the Lutes closed the half with seven unanswered points to lead 47-40 at the intermission. Willamette surged ahead 51-50 on Sean Dart's basket with 16:34 to play, and a Joseph Jackson triple two minutes later gave the visitors a 56-52 advantage. Pacific Lutheran replied, however, and regained a 60-58 advantage on Austen Wilson's follow basket with 11:23 showing. That started a 10-0 PLU run, and the Lutes were able to hold off the Bearcats down the stretch despite Mounts collecting his final two points on a baseline drive and dunk. Pacific Lutheran shot 48 percent from the field (31-for-64), including an impressive 47 percent (8-for-17) from three-point range. Less impressive, however, was PLU's 58 percent shooting (19-for-33) from the foul line. Willamette, which got 10 points from Noah Ripley in addition to Mounts' big game, shot 52 percent (30-for-58) from the field and matched exactly PLU's numbers from three-point land. Willamette got to the foul line on 12 times, however, making 10 of those.
PLU 65, LINFIELD 53: Forcing 19 turnovers and keeping the taller Linfield Wildcats away from the offensive boards on Friday night, Pacific Lutheran rolled to a 68-53 Northwest Conference men's basketball victory in Olson Auditorium. With the win, the Lutes improve to 6-3 in the conference while also bringing their overall record to 9-9. Linfield is now 2-8 in the NWC and 4-15 overall. Linfield actually shot the ball better than did the Lutes, converting 51 percent of its shots to just 39 percent for PLU, but the hosts also shot the ball 71 times, 28 more than Linfield. The Lutes went to the offensive boards effectively, grabbing 14, and that helped PLU get more opportunities at the basket. The Wildcats had 36 rebounds, one less than PLU, but only six of those came on the offensive end of the floor. Senior point guard James Conti had another stellar night with 16 points, six assists and no turnovers in 27 minutes of action. Cameron Schilling collected 15 points, six rebounds and three steals, and Drew Earnest added 11 points for the winners. Linfield got 20 points on 10-for-19 shooting from 6-foot 8-inch center Andrew Batiuk. Pacific Lutheran trailed only once in the game, that at 3-2 after Zach Anderson hit a jump shot about 2 1/2 minutes into the game. PLU then used a 10-2 run, highlighted by two Conti layups and a pair of Schilling three-point baskets, to take a 12-5 advantage. Linfield was able to get within a point, 23-22, on a Brandon Harris three-ball, but the Lutes again pulled away and eventually settled for a 35-26 halftime lead. Batiuk scored the first basket of the second half to pull the Wildcats to within seven points, but that was as close as they got as Earnest responded with a three-point hoop to give the hosts a double-digit lead that they would not surrender. PLU built its largest lead at 21 points on a couple of occasions in the final half. PLU finished the game shooting 28-for-71 overall (39 percent) and 8-for-27 from three-point range (29 percent), while Linfield was 22-for-43 (51 percent) and 2-for-8 (25 percent) from beyond the arc.