By Christian Bond, PLU Sports Information Student Writer
PARKLAND – The Pacific Lutheran men's basketball team returns home riding a five-game win streak for the final home stand of the 2015-16 regular season. The Lutes take on a couple top-10 teams this weekend as they host ninth-ranked Whitman Friday at 8 p.m. on Breast Cancer Awareness Night, sponsored by MultiCare Regional Cancer Center. PLU celebrates Senior Night Saturday, when they take on third-ranked Whitworth, with tip-off scheduled for 6 p.m.
After winning five in a row, PLU's 16-7 record features the most wins since the program won 17 during the 1997-98 season. The Lutes have gone 9-5 in Northwest Conference play, securing a berth in the NWC Tournament for the first time since the 2010-11 season. The senior class of Bryce Miller, Seth Anderson and Shane Jacob has played a significant role in the success of the 2015-16 season, and the three players will be honored prior to warmups Saturday evening.
"Bryce, Shane, and Seth have been in the program for four years, and they have experienced many ups and downs," PLU head coach Steve Dickerson said. "Yet they have always been good teammates. They have been big contributors to any success that the program has had both academically and athletically. They will be missed."
Miller earned honorable mention all-conference recognition two years ago as a sophomore, and statistically he is having the best season of his career in his final campaign. Miller is averaging 13.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, and his rebounding rate ranks second in the conference. For his career he's scored 823 points and grabbed 586 rebounds while playing in 94 games over four years.
"These past four years have been bittersweet," Miller said. "I often wonder what my college experience would have been like without basketball and the responsibilities that are coupled with being a college athlete. Each day is a challenge because I'm forced to make decisions based on my academics and success on the court, whether it is study for a test or go to the gym to work on post moves."
Jacob has appeared in 53 games for the Lutes, including 18 starts over his four-year career. He has grabbed 80 rebounds while scoring 97 points. Anderson has appeared in 82 games with 29 starts during his time at PLU, totaling 294 points and 167 rebounds.
"I have been fortunate to come into PLU with a great group of men, and they have pushed me to grow as an athlete, student and man," Miller said. "I honestly couldn't have asked for a better group of classmates to spend last four years with. PLU basketball has been a grind that I will reflect on and cherish for the rest of my life."
Having already clinched a spot in the NWC Tournament, the Lutes will host each of their two potential first-round opponents this weekend. Heading into the weekend Whitworth is lined up for the first seed while Whitman is slotted second, PLU third and Puget Sound fourth. Depending on the results of this weekend, PLU will either head to Walla Walla to face Whitman or to Spokane to face Whitworth Thursday, Feb. 25, with tipoff time to be determined.
In the Lutes' last meeting with Whitman, PLU upset the Missionaries 79-74 in Walla Walla due in large part to the play of Brandon Lester. Lester had six 3-pointers, including a go-ahead 3 in the final minute, and finished with 27 points. Dylan Foreman, Jared Christy and Miller joined Lester scoring in double-digits. The Lutes out-rebounded the Missionaries 45-32, leading to 13 second-chance points. The Lutes' big shooting advantage came beyond the 3-point line, as they shot 52.4 percent (11-of-21) from long-range while holding the Missionaries to 26.3 percent (5-of-19).
Whitworth has spent the most of the season ranked among the NCAA Div. III top five, and the Pirates come into the weekend ranked third with a 22-1 record. Whitworth defeated PLU 93-62 in the teams' first matchup in Spokane last month. Miller led the Lutes with 19 points and nine rebounds in the loss, while Jared Christy had 12 points, gathered seven rebounds and dished out three assists. For the Lutes this weekend, the goal will be to continue their five-game win streak and wrap up the regular season strong at home before heading into the conference tournament.
"The next game is always the most important game with us," Dickerson said. "We need to build on what we do and continue to improve. Our goal this year has been to give a championship effort in every practice and game, and that will continue. It is nice to have a spot in the playoffs wrapped up, but that should not affect our performance. Playing well is always the key to building confidence."