Clinching a fourth consecutive outright Northwest Conference championship in men's basketball with an 86-53 win at Linfield College on Friday night, the 12th-ranked Whitworth Pirates achieved something not accomplished in the NWC for 84 years.
Freshman George Valle scored 30 points as Whitworth improved to 21-3 overall and 13-2 in the conference and became the first NWC school with four outright league titles since 1930. Whitman won four in a row from 1927-1930.
"Regular season championships are the single most difficult accomplishment in team sports," said head coach Matt Logie. "It's taken great team commitment and individual sacrifice, as well as a great commitment from our coaching staff to make this possible. We will enjoy this accomplishment as we look back on the season, but our guys know that many of our team goals still lay ahead of us."
The Pirates never allowed the Wildcats (4-20, 3-12) a chance in the game, racing out to a 13-0 lead eight minutes in. Valle had two of the baskets in the game-opening run. Linfield fought back to within 25-19 after Tim Pang made one of two free throws. It is as close as the 'Cats would get. Valle's three-pointer in the final minute of the first half gave Whitworth a 32-22 lead at the break. The Bucs dominated the post position, outscoring Linfield 22-4 in the paint in the opening period.
Dustin McConnell's three-pointer four minutes into the second half gave Whitworth a 44-25 lead. Zach Payne's short jumper stretched the advantage to 55-34. Linfield was still within 65-48 with just over five minutes to play. But the Pirates closed the game on a 21-5 run.
Valle had 14 points in the first half and 16 in the second half to surpass his previous career-high of 23 points set in a win at Montana Tech in November. He made 12-17 shots from the field, including 2-5 from three-point range. He was 4-5 from the free throw line.
"George was terrific tonight, he scored in the post, on ball screens and was very solid defensively as well," Logie said.
McConnell was the only other Pirate in double figures with 11 points. He also led the Pirates with nine rebounds, tying a career-high, and three assists.
Whitworth made 56% (33-59) from the field, 44% (8-18) from three-point range. The Pirates outrebounded the Wildcats 42-33.
Linfield played without Andrew Batuik, the NWC's leading scorer, for the fifth straight game. Brandon Harris led the Wildcats with 17 points, while Cory Hendryx came off of the bench for 10 points.
Whitworth became only the fourth team to win four straight NWC crowns and only the second with four undisputed titles. Willamette has done it twice, but on each occasion the Bearcats shared the NWC championship two times. The Pirates will close the regular season on Saturday night at Willamette.