Written by Student Assistant Christian Bond
TACOMA, Wash. – The Pacific Lutheran University men's basketball team found its groove in a victory over crosstown rival University of Puget Sound on Tuesday night and hopes to keep its season alive with a win over Linfield College on Friday night in Olson Gymnasium.
The Lutes (12-12, 7-8 Northwest Conference) canned 15 threes on Tuesday against rival UPS, securing the 75-63 win to keep their postseason hopes alive and now face another must win game in Friday's regular season finale against Linfield. Heading into the final weekend of NWC play, the Lutes are one of four teams vying for the final two spots in next week's four-team NWC Tournament.
For five seniors, Friday will be the last regular season game they play in Olson Gymnasium. This group brought the team to the Northwest Conference tournament championship game for the first time since 1998-99 las year and has accumulated 45 wins over the past four seasons.
Brandon Lester has been a stand out player from the class. Lester has played in all 101 games over the last four years, logging 3,300 minutes on the court. He sits 12 points shy of becoming just the seventh Lute to eclipse 1,500 points in a career and owns school records in career threes (257) and free throw percentage (84.8 percent).
Kyle Sawtell has made huge shots for the Lutes over his career. Most notably, Sawtell hit a game winning shot against Lewis & Clark in January. Garth West has been in and out of the starting lineup for the Lutes. The Montana native is a career 75 percent free throw shooter. Andrew Ardissone has been an efficient contributor throughout his time in a PLU uniform along with Erik Swartout.
On the court, the group is most pleased with their big win over Whitman College in the first round of last season's Northwest Conference Tournament. PLU beat Whitman 82-68 behind 29 points from Lester. He shot an efficient 10-15 from the floor, including three-of-five from the beyond the three-point line, and he made all six of his free-throw attempts.
"My favorite on court memory was beating Whitman in the NWC tournament," Lester said. "We went in to their place and basically trounced them. That was an awesome feeling and a great time."
Off the court, the team has had many opportunities to travel the country together. They've traveled to California on a couple of occasions. Earlier this season, the team got the opportunity to meet Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors. However a trip to Disneyland was most fulfilling for West.
"I rode Space Mountain with Coach Gibson," West said. "Gibby screamed the whole time. It was a highlight for me."
Even if the season comes to a close on Friday night, members of the PLU men's basketball team have made friends for life.
Feb. 17: PLU vs. Linfield at Olson Gymnasium in Tacoma, Washington (8 p.m.)
Series History: The Lutes and Wildcats have met 132 times with PLU holding a 77-55 lead in the all-time series, including win four of the last five and 12 of the last 14. The two last met on Jan. 21 in Oregon with the Lutes collecting the 67-54 victory to jumpstart a four-game win streak.
About the Wildcats: Linfield (13-10, 7-7 NWC) heads to Tacoma having dropped three of its last four games. The Wildcat's lone triumph during that stretch was a 57-54 nailbiter on Feb. 7 on the road against Pacific University.
In that game, Linfield took the lead for good with 40 seconds left on a Kyle Maloof three and hit all four of its free throw attempts down the stretch to preserve the win. Linfield's fortunes were reversed just three days later, surrendering a late lead in an 87-83 setback to George Fox University.
Maloof leads the team in both scoring (12.0 points per game) and rebounding (5.0 per game) while Riley Bruil adds 10.0 ppg, shooting 49 percent from the field.