One of the most intriguing match-ups of the weekend pitted No. 6 Whitworth against No. 17 Puget Sound. The Loggers came to Whitworth off a loss to Pacific, needing a win while the Pirates were trying to get over the hump that is Puget Sound. Our Chris Johnson files this report from Spokane…
#17 Puget Sound Upsets #6 Whitworth
The University of Puget Sound just seems to have Whitworth’s number. The 17th-ranked Loggers upset the 6th-ranked Pirates 77-72 Friday night in Northwest Conference action at the Whitworth Fieldhouse, the seventh win in the last eight meetings between the two teams. The loss was the first of the season for the Pirates, who entered the contest at a perfect 13-0, and also snapped Whitworth’s 15 game home-court winning streak. Puget Sound (11-2) and Whitworth (13-1) are now tied atop the NWC standings at 4-1.
After a back and forth second half that saw seven ties and nine lead changes, the Logger’s Robert Kraul snapped a 72-72 deadlock with a leaner in the lane with just 1:10 left on the clock, giving UPS the lead for good. Pirate point guard Bryan Williams missed a leaner of his own the next time down the court and on the ensuing Loggers possession, sophomore Jason Foster hit a tough turn-around jumper over two Pirate defenders that extended the lead to 76-72. Kraul iced the game for UPS with a free-throw with just 16 seconds remaining.
Whitworth was without leading scorer James Jones (16.1 PPG) who broke a bone in his hand during practice earlier in the week and isn’t supposed to return for 4-6 weeks. The Pirates missed Jones’ ball-handling ability as much as his scoring touch as the Logger’s kept a defender on Williams at all times, who still managed to score 12 points and a dish out a game high 8 assists. “That was the game-plan all week- keep the ball out of (Williams) hands”, said Logger head coach Justin Lunt. “He’s one of the best point guards in the county.”
The Loggers’ relentless defense forced Whitworth into 23 turnovers. Despite the constant pressure and double teams, Whitworth was able to find Ryan Symes (23 points) and Kevin Hasenfus (19 points) for easy lay-ups down low. The duo combined to hit 17 of 25 shots (68%) from the floor. The Pirates finished shooting 58% for the game, just above their nation-leading average of 54%. However Whitworth failed to hit a three-pointer for the first time since Dec. 21, 2001.
Things were going well early for the Pirates as they held the high-powered Logger offense, which came into the game with the nation’s third highest scoring average at 107.9 per game, to only eight points through the first 13 minutes. But the shots eventually started to fall for the Loggers who only trailed at halftime by a score of 31-26. The Loggers caught fire in the second half hitting on 65% of their shots and closed the game on a 17-6 run.
UPS Guard Taylor Marsh kept the Loggers in the game hitting early three first half threes. “We practiced defense all week, but my shot felt great tonight”, said Marsh, who wasn’t fazed by the wide-open spaces of the fieldhouse. “My teammates found me and I was able to hit some big shots tonight.”
Perhaps his biggest shot was a three from the top of the key with only 2:36 remaining, giving the Loggers the lead at 70-68 and swinging momentum back in favor of UPS. Marsh finished with a team high 19 points, hitting 5 of 12 from behind the arc. Kraul had 13 points and Foster chipped in 11 points and 7 rebounds despite being saddled with foul trouble.
The two rivals will hook-up again February 9th in Tacoma.