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PLU Still Pushing For NWC Postseason

James Conti
James Conti

THIS WEEK: The Pacific Lutheran University men's basketball team enters the last week of the 2011-12 regular season fighting for the final spot in the Northwest Conference's postseason tournament. The Lutes, who were not able to pick up a win on the road against Lewis & Clark College last Saturday night, sit in a tie for fifth place in the NWC Standings. With a 10-13 overall mark on the season and 7-7 record in conference, the Lutes will be fighting for their postseason lives this week as the team closes out the regular season with two home games. Friday night, PLU welcomes the Pacific University Boxers to Olson Auditorium. The next night, in the regular season finale, the Lutes are set to battle with George Fox University, which currently holds the fourth-and-final NWC playoff spot. Both games are set to begin at 8 p.m.  

LISTEN LIVE: Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Robertson will be courtside to call the remainder of the PLU home and road basketball games. Those games can be heard in the Tacoma area on KLAY 1180 AM, as well as online at Click on the Listen Live on the right side of the page and then on the appropriate link.

FINAL GAMES IN THE BLACK AND GOLD: As the regular season comes to an end, two Lutes will be wrapping up their careers in the black and gold. Seniors James Conti and Zachary Klein will be playing their last games in Olson Auditorium this weekend. Conti, a guard from Edmonds, Wash., has been a four-year starter for the Lutes and is playing the best basketball of his career in his final season. The floor general leads the team this season in points, assists, steals, and free throws made. On Jan. 28, Conti put himself in the PLU career record books by recording his 163rd steal, passing PLU great and Hall of Fame member Don Brown for first place on the all-time list.  Additionally, James has climbed the all-time assists leaderboard and currently ranks third all-time with 334 career assists. Zach Klein has played a key reserve roll for the Lutes this season and has appeared in all 22 games for PLU in 2011-12. Klein scored a season-high 12 points in PLU's loss to Wheaton College in mid-December.

PLAYOFF PICTURE: Three out of the four tickets to the NWC playoffs have already been punched, but with one week left in the season three programs are battling for the final spot. By virtue of two road wins this past weekend in Oregon, the Whitworth University Pirates (NWC 13-1) have wrapped up their third consecutive regular season title. Whitman College and the University of Puget Sound, both 10-6 in NWC play, have secured tournament berths and look to be on a collision course for a first-round matchup although final seedings have yet to be determined. George Fox (NWC 8-6) controls its own destiny this week. With two wins this weekend, the Bruins will be headed to the NWC playoffs. In addition, if the Bruins can win one of its two games this weekend, they will eliminate the Lutes from playoff contention. With a 7-7 mark in the NWC, both PLU and Lewis & Clark are still mathematically in contention for the fourth spot in the playoffs and a first-round date with Whitworth. Lewis & Clark hosts UPS and then finishes the regular season on the road this weekend at seventh-place Pacific. As for PLU, the Lutes cannot overlook a home contest with Pacific this Friday, but Saturday night's matchup with GFU could set up to be a do or die contest for both teams. The first and second place teams in the regular season standings host first-round playoff contests on Thursday, Feb. 23. The highest remaining seed hosts the NWC tournament title game on Saturday, Feb. 25.

IN THE RING WITH THE BOXERS: With a 9-14 overall record on the season, the Pacific University Boxers have not put back-to-back victories together since the middle of December. Having won only two of their past 15 games, the Boxers have struggled to score the basketball this season. Guard Collin Webster leads Pacific this season and is averaging 15.4 points per game which ranks seventh in the NWC. The junior is capable of having big-scoring performances as he has scored 20+ points on seven occasions this year. Charles Mosley and David Berney also add to the offense and are both averaging more than 10 points per contest. 

LAST TIME THE TWO TEAMS MET: Start with 56 percent shooting, add a 34-19 rebounding advantage along with solid defense, and throw in a 15-0 run in the middle of the first half and you have the recipe for a Pacific Lutheran victory. The Lutes rolled past the host Pacific Boxers by a 77-56 score at Stoller Center in Pacific Grove, Ore., on Jan. 21. Cameron Schilling notched a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, eight of the latter coming in the second half. James Conti had his usual solid floor game with 12 points, four assists and three steals, while Kai Hoyt chipped in with 10 points. 

A LOOK AT THE BRUINS: Despite the George Fox University Bruins holding an 11-12 record on the year, GFU has put together an 8-6 NWC mark to sit in the driver's seat for the fourth-spot in the NWC heading into the final weekend of the season. The Bruins offer a balanced scoring attack as four players are averaging more than 12 points per game. Senior wing Mike Taylor leads the team in points per game (15.1), rebounds per game (5.3), and assists per game (4.1). Wing Anthony Sanchez compliments Taylor's abilities and is scoring 13.3 ppg this season. Mark Sundquist is at the helm for the Bruins and is wrapping up his 12th year as the GFU head coach. Saturday night's tilt between the Lutes and the Bruins will be the 35th meeting between the two programs. PLU holds a 20-14 advantage in the series history.  

LAST TIME THE TWO TEAMS MET: Anthony Sanchez scored a rebound basket at the buzzer to give the host George Fox Bruins a 53-52 win over Pacific Lutheran at Wheeler Center on Jan. 20. Pacific Lutheran had taken a 52-51 lead on Cameron Schilling's jump shot with 10 seconds to play, giving the Bruins one last chance to win the game. PLU played tough defense and forced Mike Taylor to shoot an air ball from three-point range. Sanchez was in the right spot on the weak side, grabbing the air ball and laying it off the glass as the final buzzer sounded and the red light lit up on the backboard. Officials ruled that the basket counted, and the game was over. Schilling had another good game for the Lutes, tallying game highs of 18 points and eight rebounds. James Conti added 12 points and seven rebounds for the Lutes, who shot 33 percent (20-for-61) from the field, including a dismal 14 percent (2-for-14) from beyond the three-point line.

L&C 63, PLU 53: Pacific Lutheran lost a 63-53 Northwest Conference men's basketball game at Lewis & Clark on Saturday night, but a contest that ended minutes later in Salem kept PLU's hope of a postseason playoff berth alive. When Willamette secured a 77-75 win over George Fox, the Lutes knew that their postseason aspirations lived for another week. On Saturday, Pacific Lutheran made the game's first basket - Cameron Reister's three-pointer - 25 seconds in and it led throughout the first half. The team had a seven-point lead on three occasions before eventually settling for a 28-27 lead at the break. Lewis & Clark gained the momentum and the lead in the opening minutes of the final period. Marcus Wells hit a trey with 13:25 to play, breaking a 32-32 tie, and once the Pios got on top, they stayed there. They gradually added to their lead, taking a double-digit advantage on Donato Perconti's two free throws with 4:22 left, and the Lutes couldn't rally. James Conti scored 14 points and Drew Earnest, Reister and Kai Hoyt all added nine for the Lutes, now 10-13 for the season. PLU had trouble finding its shooting touch, converting just 34 percent from the field. Cameron Schilling led the team with seven rebounds. PJ Taylor scored 16 points to lead Lewis & Clark, which shot 48 percent from the field while also taking a 39-31 rebounding edge.