The Pirates finished the week with two strong wins, one last Wednesday against Montana Tech in Butte, Montana, and the second last Saturday against UC Santa Cruz in the Fieldhouse.
On Wednesday, the Pirates shot just over 60 percent from the field and 59 percent from beyond the arc while rolling to a 90-75 win over the Orediggers.
Freshman guard George Valle led Whitworth with a career-high 23 points. Junior guard Dustin McConnell also dished out a career-high seven assists while starting at point guard for injured senior Wade Gebbers.
“While playing without Wade, we needed to make sure we continued to play the way we play,” Whitworth head coach Matt Logie said. “We ended up executing the basic elements of our offense really well.”
Preparation and execution were keys to the win.
“We spent all week preparing for the Montana Tech defense,” Valle said. “We shot the ball well due to ball movement, and passed up good shots for great shots.”
As the Pirates hit 16-27 3-point attempts, as junior guard Colton McCargar and senior forward Mack Larkin hit half of those with four apiece. McCargar and Larkin each had 12 points and Larkin led the Pirates with six rebounds.
“Shots were just going in for us,” Logie said. “A guy would take a good shot and I’d be thinking, ‘That was a good shot, it should go in,’ and then it would.”
Adam Greger ended up with 17 points to lead Montana Tech, with teammate Travis Peevey finishing with 16 points. Bryan Bock also contributed 12 points and six rebounds for the Orediggers.
The goals the Whitworth men’s team have for themselves this season are high, one of which is to make a playoff run in March.
“We not only want to win conference but go to the national tournament and play well also,” Valle said.
That goal will likely be attainable for the Pirates this season as they have gone to the NCAA tournament the last six seasons. This includes an Elite Eight showing and three Sweet Sixteen appearances.
As they approached Saturday night’s game against UCSC, the focus was on improving on their mistakes from Wednesday.
“We had a great offensive night on Wednesday, but we still gave up 75 points,” Logie said. “We really want to improve some of that defensive intensity.”
Later in the week, the Pirates jumped on the opportunity to improve their defense against UCSC as Whitworth clinched a 61-48 win at the Fieldhouse with 875 people in attendance to advance to 3-1 in the regular season.
Valle led the way again for the Pirates with 17 points and five rebounds. In addition, McCargar had an eight-point, nine-rebound game along with McConnell’s six points, five rebounds and six assists to cap off a strong showing despite lacking captain Gebbers for a second consecutive game.
“They played pretty well,” McCargar said. “It was tough to get going and we didn’t end up shooting the ball very well.”
Despite Whitworth’s early slump and UCSC keeping it close well into the first half, the Banana Slugs, who only shot 36.4 percent from the field, ended up at 23.8 percent from the 3-point line and only 33.3 percent from foul shots, shooting 3-9 from the line.
“We definitely hit our goal of better defense this time around,” Logie said. “We wanted to hold them under 38 percent shooting for the game and we pulled that off.”
Sophomore Adam Wilks had six points and seven rebounds in only 10 minutes of play, but his spark off the bench in the first half provided a key boost that helped allow Whitworth to retain its 31-23 lead over UCSC at the end of the first period.
“It’s an awesome feeling to play like this,” Wilks said. “Our shots weren’t falling as well tonight, but we put our trust in our defense and it carried us through.”
As the Pirates shift their focus to next week’s games against Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound, their focus will not let up.
“[Pacific Lutheran] is a well-coached team and they play hard,” Logie said. “It’ll be a hard fought battle next Friday.”
As the Pirates begin conference play, their goals for the season will be tested.
“As part of this program, we expect to win,” Logie said. “These guys are self-motivated; us coaches just have to find the right buttons to push.”
Connor Soudani Staff Writer
Contact Connor Soudani at firstname.lastname@example.org.