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Lutes take aim at strong second half of NWC season beginning Tuesday against UPS

Photo by Bailey Plumb
Photo by Bailey Plumb

By Christian Bond, PLU Sports Information Student Writer

PARKLAND – Coming off a road upset win over 16th-ranked Whitman on Saturday, the Pacific Lutheran men's basketball team gets right back on the court Tuesday as the Lutes visit cross-town rival Puget Sound before returning home to host Willamette on Friday.

Pacific Lutheran closed out the first half of the Northwest Conference schedule tied with the Loggers for third in the standings at 4-4, while the Lutes are 11-6 overall. Last weekend the Lutes traveled to face two top-20 teams in the poll, and following a tough 93-62 loss to top-ranked Whitworth the Lutes bounced back for Saturday's 79-74 victory over Whitman. PLU gained a major advantage in the win from three-point range, as the Lutes shot 52.4 percent (11-of-21) from deep to best the Missionaries' 26.3 percent (5-of-19) from long range. The Lutes also out-rebounded Whitman 45-to-32 and four players scored in double-figures, led by Brandon Lester's 27 points.

"The win Saturday night really proved how mentally tough we can be," PLU head coach Steve Dickerson said. "It showed the true character of these kids and proved how resilient they are."

Tuesday the Lutes take the short trip to take on the neighboring Puget Sound Loggers as they square off for the second time this season, with tipoff set for 8 p.m. In the first match up, Dylan Foreman and Lester each surpassed 20 points for the Lutes, as Foreman dropped 22 and Lester poured in 21 points in a 72-60 PLU home victory. PLU led throughout the second half of that contest and will now look to sweep the cross-town rival Loggers for the first time since the 2010-11 season. Puget Sound is 9-8 overall this season and tied with PLU at 4-4 in conference play.

"In our conference the competition is so close that it really doesn't make a difference whether you are playing a team the first time or the second," Dickerson said. "UPS versus PLU is always a dog fight because we know each other so well."

Friday the Bearcats of Willamette will pay a visit to Olsen Gymnasium for an 8 p.m. rematch. Lester had a big night against Willamette the last time the two teams met, scoring 24 points while leading the Lutes to a 77-67 win in Salem. Foreman also had a big game with 20 points and nine rebounds as PLU came back from a double-digit first-half deficit and used a 24-of-28 performance at the free throw line to close out the win. Willamette comes into the weekend with a 6-11 overall record and is 3-5 in the NWC.

With eight games remaining in the regular season, Lester ranks second in the conference in scoring (17.4 points per game), while Bryce Miller and Jared Christy rank second and third in rebounds at 8.8 and 8.2 per contest. PLU is on pace to have one of its best seasons ever under head coach Steve Dickerson. The team has already reached 11 wins with eight games left in the regular season, with a chance to make a run at a Northwest Conference Tournament berth in the second half of the NWC season.

"We need to continue to realize if we do what we do and understand that we are playing against the game of basketball and it is a moment-by-moment game, we will be fine." Dickerson said.