PLU Women Cagers Need Wins to Stay in Playoff Hunt
THIS WEEKEND: Pacific Lutheran (7-14 overall, 5-7 NWC) at Whitman (10-11, 5-7), Friday, 8 p.m.; PLU at Whitworth (11-10, 7-5), Saturday, 6 p.m.
LISTEN TO THE LUTES: You can listen to PLU women's basketball games on KLAY 1180 AM in the Tacoma area and also at www.klay1180.com. Long-time announcer Bob Robertson calls the action for the Lutes.
WINS ARE A MUST: Pacific Lutheran is running out of opportunities to climb back into the Northwest Conference playoff race, so this weekend's road games against Whitman and Whitworth are crucial for the Lutes. The NWC's top four teams receive berths in the postseason tournament, which is scheduled for semifinal games on Thursday, Feb. 25, with the championship on Saturday, Feb. 27. With five wins and seven losses, the Lutes are tied with Whitman for fifth place in the conference standings, but those two teams trail fourth-place Whitworth by two full games. PLU beat Whitworth the first time the teams played, so a win at Whitworth on Saturday would give the Lutes the tiebreaker over the Pirates. Before PLU can think about the Pirates, however, they need a win over the Whitman Missionaries.
ABOUT THE MISSIONARIES: This is a team that has found itself of late, winning four of its last five after suffering a five-game losing streak. The reason that the Missionaries have played so well of late is that they've adjusted to the untimely losses of standouts Anna Forge and Jenele Peterson, a pair of starters who suffered season-ending injuries. Hilary White, Rebecca Sexton and Kelly Peterson have been solid this season in their stead. White leads the team in scoring (12.4 points per game) and rebounding (5.7 per game), followed by Sexton (10.3 points and 5.0 rebounds) and Peterson (9.8 and 4.5). Despite a losing record (10-11), Whitman has outscored its opposition this season by 4.6 points, and it has a plus 0.8 rebound margin.
THE LAST TIME: Pacific Lutheran scored 12 of the game's final 16 points to defeat Whitman, 58-52, on Jan. 15 in Olson Auditorium. The Lutes trailed 48-46 with 3:35 remaining in the contest, but on their next trip down the floor the Lutes got a three-point basket from Sara Backstrom to take a 49-48 margin, setting them off on their strong finish. Meghan Dowling followed Backstrom's trey with a layup, and with 1:32 remaining Melissa Pixler took a backdoor lob from Backstrom and hit a layup to give PLU a 53-48 advantage. After Hilary White scored a layup with 1:14 left to cut Whitman's deficit to 53-50, Jordan Westering hit a pair of free throws for the Lutes, followed by Kelly Peterson's basket with 31 seconds left. Pixler added a jumper and Dowling hit one of two free throws to close out the scoring. Backstrom led four Pacific Lutheran in double figures with 15 points, including a trio of three-point field goals. Pixler added 13 points on 6-for-10 shooting, Westering scored 11 points, including a perfect 8-for-8 at the foul line, and Tracy Goehri scored 10 points. Westering paced the Lutes with eight rebounds as PLU won that battle, 32-27. White scored 16 points and Peterson added 15 for the Missionaries.
ABOUT THE PIRATES: Like the Missionaries, Whitworth has been playing very well of late with five wins in their past six games. The Pirates' only loss during that string came in their last game against George Fox, ranked No. 5 in the country and unbeaten this year in the NWC. The Pirates are balanced with all five starters averaging at least seven points per game, led by Cassie Pilkington at 12.3 per contest. Pilkington also paces the team with an average of 5.6 rebounds per contest. Other top players include Kim Bluff (8.9 points per game) and Liz Horiatis (8.7 points, 5.3 rebounds per game). Whitworth, which averages 66 points per game, can score in bunches as evidenced by a recent 90-39 home court win over Willamette.
THE LAST TIME: A game that was tied 10 times went down to the wire as Pacific Lutheran prevailed at home over the Whitworth Pirates, 57-55, on Jan. 16. Jordan Westering scored six of the Lutes' final seven points, including a three-pointer with 1:38 left to play that broke a 53-53 tie and gave the Lutes their biggest lead of the contest. With the Lutes leading, 56-55, Meghan Dowling blocked Liz Horiatis' jumper with 18 seconds remaining and grabbed the rebound for the Lutes. The Lutes' Tracy Goehri led all scorers with 15 points, and she was one of four PLU players scoring in double figures. Leah Pomante's 12 points led the visitors. Dowling finished with 10 rebounds, including the clutch defensive board following her late block that sealed the win for the Lutes.
LUTES FALL TO LOGGERS, PIONEERS: PLU suffered a pair of Northwest Conference defeats last week, losing 69-54 to Puget Sound on Tuesday and 64-58 to Lewis & Clark on Saturday. Against UPS, the Lutes made seven three pointers on 18 attempts to stay within seven points of the Loggers with 3:09 remaining, but they could not find an answer for Claire Ely. The Puget Sound guard scored 11 points down the stretch points on free throws, jumpers and layups, and she ended up tallying 22 of her game-high 26 points in the second half. The Loggers made 32 trips to the foul line, knocking down 19 of those attempts, while the Lutes were 7-of-12 from the charity stripe. PLU sophomore Melissa Pixler scored a team-high 18 points, 12 of them from three-point range, while Jordan Westering grabbed eight rebounds for the Lutes. PLU couldn't live with prosperity on Saturday, racing to a 22-9 lead only to see Lewis & Clark rally for the win. The Lutes went scoreless for the last 6:20 of the first period as the Pioneers cut their halftime deficit to 24-22. The Lutes regained the momentum and surged ahead 45-36 on Sara Backstrom's long bomb with 9:01 to play, but the hosts replied by scoring 17 of the next 24 points to take a 53-52 lead on Talerra Rich's layup with 3:25 on the clock. Pixler came right back with a three-point basket to put the Lutes back on top, 55-53, but they managed to score just three more points in the final three minutes of the game. PLU shot the ball very well from beyond the three-point arc, making 10-of-20, but they were just 11-of-36 otherwise and ended up shooting 38 percent overall. Sara Backstrom made 4-of-8 treys on her way to 18 points, Westering was 3-of-7 while scoring 15 points, and Pixler was 3-of-4 in scoring 13 points.
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