By Christian Bond, PLU Sports Information Student Writer
PARKLAND – The Pacific Lutheran men's basketball team has a chance to help solidify its position in the top half of the Northwest Conference standings this weekend as the Lutes close out the first half of the league season with road games against Whitworth and Whitman.
Pacific Lutheran heads east for the longest bus trip of the season as the Lutes take their 10-5 overall record and 3-3 NWC mark to Spokane for Friday's 8 p.m. matchup against top-ranked Whitworth before finishing the weekend Saturday in Walla Walla against No. 16 Whitman.
The Lutes bounced back from three close losses with a 73-61 win over Pacific Saturday at home. Against the Boxers, the Lutes shot 57.9 percent (11-of-19) from three-point range, which helped build a 21 point second-half lead. PLU head coach Steve Dickerson praised his bench, as they contributed to a key 13-0 that helped put the game out of reach.
"Bench play will be extremely important to us as we come to the last third of the season," Dickerson. "We need at least four players per game to give us good minutes from the bench. I am an 'equal opportunity' bench user: whoever gets the job done from game to game is who we will count on for good minutes. In our last game Markus Glenn, Andrew Ardissone, Tyson Birrer, Kyle Sawtell and Shane Jacob really stepped up."
Pacific Lutheran ranks third in the conference in both points (77.1 per game) and points allowed (66.3) while leading the league in three-point shooting (40.5 percent) and ranking second in three-point defense (32.4 percent). Brandon Lester ranks second in the conference in scoring (17.7 points per game), while Dylan Foreman ranks fifth (15.7). Bryce Miller's 8.9 rebounds per game rank second, while Jared Christy is one spot behind averaging 7.9.
On Friday the Lutes' goal will be to achieve what no other team has done this season: defeat Whitworth. The Pirates have yet to lose this year, touting a perfect 15-0 record and ranking first in the latest d3hoops.com poll. Christian Jurlina is the third-leading scorer in the conference, averaging 16.3 points per game. The team ranks among the national Division III leaders in shooting (46.9 percent) free throws (77.3 percent) and opponent shooting (38.6 percent).
While Whitworth has allowed the fewest points in the conference, Whitman has scored the most. The Missionaries moved up five spots to No. 16 in the latest national poll and boast a 13-2 overall record this season. Whitman is 5-1 in conference play, their only loss in conference came against Whitworth. Tim Howell leads the Northwest Conference in scoring at 18.3 points per game. As a team, Whitman ranks eighth in the nation in scoring, averaging 93.8 points per game. The Missionaries have allowed an average of 73.1 points per game, out-scoring opponents by an average of 20.7 points per contest.
"Whitworth and Whitman have been the class of the league for several years," Dickerson said. "They are very different styles: Whitworth pounds you inside and Whitman tries to run you out of the gym. We must execute both offensively and defensively in the half court versus Whitworth and rebound. Against Whitman we must try to attack their pressure, control the tempo of the game and rebound."
The weekend road trip wraps up the first half of the NWC schedule with PLU currently tied for the fourth spot in the standings. The Lutes' next three games are against each of the teams above PLU in the standings, as they'll return to Tacoma for a Tuesday rivalry road game against a Puget Sound team that ranks third in the conference.