Win or Done for Whitworth Women

SPOKANE, Wash. – It may take a miracle, but the Whitworth women's basketball team still has a shot at making the 2012 Northwest Conference tournament.  The Pirates will need to win twice this week, and hope that Puget Sound loses twice.  It begins with Tuesday night's game at Whitman, then concludes on Saturday with a Senior Night game against Willamette.  Both games will tip off at 6:00 p.m. and Tuesday's contest will be broadcast live on KSBN 1230am and KSBN.net.

Whitworth (10-13 overall, 6-8 NWC) won in impressive fashion at Linfield last Friday night, but then fell at Pacific on Saturday.

The Pirates: Whitworth played perhaps its best all-around offensive game of the season, led by Lexi Belcher's career-high 33 points, in last Saturday's 93-73 win at Linfield.  The Pirates hit 57% (34-60) of their shots from the floor, 52% (11-21) from three-point range.  Whitworth out-rebounded Linfield 32-26 and forced 19 Wildcat turnovers.  Belcher hit 10-16 from the floor, 8-11 from three-point range to tie Emily Guthrie (this season) and Annette Sweeney (1994-95) for most three-pointers made in a game.  Guthrie scored 12 points and had three assists, while Jamie Lyons added 11 points and a team-high eight rebounds.  Lauren Picha was the fourth Pirate in double figures with 10 points.  Kendra Knutsen came off of the bench for a career-high eight assists.  Whitworth swept the season series against Linfield.

Whitworth fell behind Pacific 22-7 in the early going and could never recover against the Boxers in a 78-70 loss on Saturday night.  The Pirates trailed by as many as 19 points in the second half and by 18 with less than five minutes to play before rallying to within six points in the final minute.  Whitworth struggled from three-point range, making only 6-23 (26.1%) from beyond the arc, and that included Lexi Belcher's 4-7 from the three-point line.  Belcher finished with 23 points and nine rebounds to lead Whitworth in both categories.  Kayla Johnson added 16 points and Emily Guthrie scored 14 for Whitworth.  The Pirates ended up splitting the season series with Pacific.

The Pirates have been able to score the basketball this season.  As a team Whitworth leads the NWC in three-pointers made per game (7.7 – which ranks 12th in all of NCAA Division III).  The Bucs also rank second in the conference in points per game (71.6) and team three-point percentage (32.5%) and third in assists per game (14.2) and team free throw percentage (71.7).

Senior Night: Lexi Belcher and Taylor Taylor will be recognized prior to Saturday's game vs. Willamette.  The pair are the only seniors on this year's team and their contributions to the program will be honored by Coach Helen Higgs and the rest of the Pirates.

Date

Time

Game

Live Coverage

Feb. 14

6:00 pm

At Whitman

Live stats / Audio

Feb. 18

6:00 pm

vs. Willamette

Live Stats / Live Video

The Opponents: Whitman is 14-9 overall and 10-4 in the NWC.  The Missionaries have sown up a spot in the NWC tournament and will be the third seed in the semifinals on February 23rd.  Last weekend Whitman won 82-70 at Pacific on Friday and then rolled to a 65-38 win at Linfield on Saturday.  The Missionaries rank first in the NWC in fewest turnovers committed per game (14.7) and also rank second in the league in both team free throw percentage (73.5) and team blocks per game (3.1).  Senior point guard Jenele Peterson is wrapping up a terrific career by averaging 13.2 points per game and an NWC-best 4.5 assists per contest.  Whitman is very balanced in scoring and minutes played beyond Peterson.  Sophomore forward Meghan White adds 6.7 points per game and ranks tied for fourth in the NWC in rebounding average (7.7).  On January 17th Whitman outscored Whitworth 45-29 after halftime to pull out a 78-70 win over the Pirates in Spokane despite 26 points and nine rebounds by Lexi Belcher.

Willamette University comes into the week with a 1-22 overall record and an 0-14 NWC mark heading into a Friday night game at Whitman.  The Bearcats are hoping to finish with the slightest bit of momentum for next season and hope to end a 16-game losing streak.  Last weekend Willamette lost 77-58 at home to second-place Lewis & Clark and fell 73-38 at home to third-ranked George Fox.  Senior forward Kaileigh Westermann averages 8.9 points per game and ranks tied for fourth in the NWC with an average of 7.7 rebounds per contest.  Sophomore wing Mackenzie Lamson adds 8.8 points per game.  Whitworth defeated Willamette 88-46 in Salem, Oregon on January 20th.  The Pirates made 42% of their three-pointers in the game and Kendra Lahue came off of the bench to lead the Bucs with 15 points.

NWC Standings: Nationally-ranked George Fox (14-0) has locked up the top spot in the NWC standings, while Lewis & Clark (12-2) is assured of second place.  Whitman (10-4) moved ahead of Puget Sound (8-6) into third place in the NWC standings two weeks ago.  Whitworth (6-8) is two games behind UPS with two games to go.  The only hope remaining for the Pirates is that Puget loses its last two games (at Lewis & Clark and at Linfield), while Whitworth wins against Whitman and Willamette.  Then the Pirates will hold the tiebreaker over UPS.  The top four teams in the final standings advance to the NWC post-season tournament that determines the league's automatic bid to the NCAA championships.

Lexi Leads 'Em: Lexi Belcher has been the Pirates' leading scorer this season, leading the team in total points in 15 of the team's 23 games.  Belcher is averaging 71.4 points per contest, which now ranks second in the NWC.  She also now leads the league in three-point percentage (42.0) after raising her average nearly five percentage points last week.  She ranks eighth in field goal percentage (46.4) and 11th in free throw percentage (72.2). Belcher's 33 points at Linfield on February 10th surpassed the 26 points in the game against Whitman on January 17th as her career high.

More than Just a Shooter: Emily Guthrie earned Second Team All-NWC honors last season after ranking among the league leaders in both three-point percentage and three-pointers made per game and leading the Pirates in scoring average. But she is proving that she is more than a shooter this season. While averaging 11.0 points per game, Guthrie has also added 3.0 assists per contest (6th in the NWC) and grabs 4.5 rebounds per game. But Guthrie is still the most dangerous three-point shooter in the Northwest Conference, leading the lead in three-pointers made per game (2.3) and making  32.3% of her attempts from beyond the arc (9th in the league).  She tied a school record with eight threes made in the win over Lancaster Bible and her 29 points in that game surpassed her previous career-high of 21 points set in last season's win over Westminster.

Kayla Gets it Done: Kayla Johnson does much of the dirty work for the Whitworth basketball team this season. She is averaging 11.7 points per game, but is not afraid to mix up her 5'-8" frame inside with bigger players. She leads the team (and ranks 8th in the NWC) in rebounding (6.8 rpg) and steals (1.4 spg).

Picha Breaks Out: Lauren Picha is having a breakthrough season for the Pirates, averaging 9.4 points per game this season. Her 27 points in the win at Evergreen State on November 22nd is the second-highest individual total for any Whitworth player in 2011-12.

Taylor Returns to the Team: Taylor Taylor is back with the team.  The senior forward rejoined the team at the beginning of Jan Term after spending the fall semester in Germany with her husband (and former Pirate All-American) Michael Taylor, who is playing professionally.  Last year she averaged 10.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for the Pirates.  She has appeared in ten games off of the bench this season, averaging 4.8 points and 3.2 rebounds.

Three SWX Broadcasts: The February 3rd game against Puget Sound was the third of three games carried live this season by local cable station SWX.  SWX stands for Sports & Weather Right Now and is owned by local NBC affiliate KHQ channel 6. SWX can be seen both over-the-air and through some cable services in the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene, Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, and Yakima viewership areas. In the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene area, SWX is found on digital channel 6.2, on Comcast channel 115 in Spokane and Time Warner channel 306 in North Idaho. Click here for a complete list of station numbers throughout the Eastern Washington/North Idaho region.

Up Next: It all depends on where the Pirates finish in the final NWC standings.  The conference semifinals are Thursday, Feb. 23 at the home of the two highest seeds.  The championship is Feb. 25 at the home of the highest remaining seed.

The Coach: Helen Higgs is in her 18th season at Whitworth and is the winningest women's basketball coach in school history. She has a record of 261-192 during her tenure as the Pirate head coach. Her current winning percentage of .574 is also the best all-time among Pirate women's basketball coaches. She has been named Northwest Conference Coach of the Year three times.

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