By Christian Bond, PLU Sports Information Student Writer
PARKLAND - Coming off of three straight Northwest Conference home victories, the Pacific Lutheran men's basketball team looks to continue the momentum this weekend with road games against Pacific on Friday at 8 p.m. and Lewis & Clark on Saturday at 6 p.m.
At 14-7 with four games remaining in the regular season, the Lutes have played one of their best seasons under head coach Steve Dickerson. That success is due in part to the contributions of junior guard Brandon Lester. A three-year starter, Lester is currently 55 points away from becoming the 25th player in program history to reach 1,000 career points. He is also on pace to finish this season with more than 400 points, which has not been done by a PLU player since the 2007-08 season. His offensive production has been among the best in the NWC, as he ranks second in scoring (16.6 points per game) and leads the league with a free throw percentage of 86.4, on pace to end the year as the fourth-best in program history.
"A big thing that we upperclassmen have preached this year is that to be great you have to be a hard worker in order to be successful," Lester said. "I think that we have shown examples of how this translates into wins by getting in the weight room consistently and by working on our individual skills throughout the season. I try to go shooting every single day with my teammates, and I think this translates to our success in games. I am excited and confident in what our team is going to do during the rest of the season and into the postseason. My individual accomplishments are due to my teammates and coaches who have put me in situations to succeed."
The 5-foot-11-inch guard has had great success in his first three seasons at PLU. Lester ranks fourth all time in three-pointers attempted with 412, and sits fifth all time with 167 three pointers made. His 82.7 career free throw percentage currently ranks third on the all-time list. As the team has flourished this season Lester has been one of the key components, and he still has one year of eligibility remaining.
"Coaching Brandon and watching him develop has been a pleasure," Dickerson said. "He may be undersized, but with a big heart and enormous brain power anything is possible. Brandon pushes himself to perform in every practice and every game at a championship level. He knows what he does well and what he needs to work on, and he is consistent on and off the court. He is the perfect example of what a student-athlete should be."
On Friday, the Lutes will head to Forest Grove, Oregon, to take on Pacific. In their first meeting, Lester led the team with 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting and 4-of-6 from 3-point range. Bryce Miller and Jared Christy each had 12 points and eight rebounds for their team. As a team, the Lutes shot 57.9 percent (11-of-19) from 3-point range as the Lutes defeated Pacific 73-61. A win Friday would give the Lutes their first season sweep of the Boxers since the 2011-12 season.
On Saturday, PLU plays the Pioneers of Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon. PLU built a 10-point lead with five minutes remaining in the last matchup between the teams, but Lewis & Clark hit 3-pointers on five straight possessions to take a late lead and pick up a 68-65 win. Miller had 14 points and seven rebounds in the Lute loss, while Lester added 12 points and Christy had 10 points and eight rebounds.
With four games remaining in the regular season, PLU is tied for third in the conference standings with a 7-5 record. A potential road sweep this weekend would secure a three-game lead over fifth place with two games to play, guaranteeing a spot in the four-team Northwest Conference Tournament. But the Lutes aren't getting ahead of themselves; they're staying focused on each game as it comes.
"We are looking forward to this weekend," Dickerson said. "Our next game is always our most important game; don't look ahead or behind, just perform in the moment!"