WALLA WALLA - With four games left in the regular season, the Whitman College women's basketball team is tied for the fourth and final Northwest Conference playoff spot as it prepares for a pair of home games this weekend in Sherwood Center.
Whitman, 12-9 on the season and 6-6 in the NWC, awaits two teams at the opposite end of the standings, starting with defending champion George Fox (16-5, 10-2 NWC) on Friday.
Struggling Willamette (3-16, 2-10 NWC) plays Friday night at Whitworth in Spokane and then comes to Whitman on Saturday.
Both of Whitman's weekend home games start at 6 p.m. on George Ball Court.
For the moment, the Missionaries sit in a fourth-place tie with Whitworth, which hosts George Fox on Saturday.
The regular season ends next week. After Whitman hosts Whitworth at 6 p.m. Tuesday, the two teams play their season finales later that week with road games at Pacific (6-15, 2-10 NWC).
Three teams - Puget Sound, George Fox and Lewis & Clark - have locked down the first three playoff berths, although the seeding has yet to be decided. Puget Sound is 11-2 in the NWC while the other two teams are 10-2.
The NWC playoffs start with first-round games on Feb. 24. The No. 1 seed hosts No. 4 while the No. 2 seed gets the home game against No. 3. Winners of those two games play Feb. 26, for an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III national tournament field.
In games played last month in western Oregon, Whitman withstood a late Willamette rally to win 74-71 but then lost 64-57 decision at George Fox.
First-year forward Sarah Anderegg scored a season-high 19 rebounds and grabbed seven rebounds to spark the victory over Willamette. The Bearcats, down by 11 points with four minutes left in the game, rallied and had a shot at a game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
Juniors Jenele Peterson (11 points, six rebounds) and Jennifer Keyes (10 points, four rebounds) added to the win at Willamette. Whitman also got nine points and six rebounds from junior Anna Forge and nine rebounds and three steals from sophomore Kelly Peterson.
Keyes paced Whitman in the loss at George Fox, hitting four 3-pointers while scoring 16 points and snaring five rebounds and three steals. Jenele Peterson chipped in with 13 points while Anderegg combined 10 points and seven rebounds.
Whitman has dominated Willamette in recent years, winning the last seven meetings between the two schools.
Willamette's last victory came in February of 2006 when the Bearcats rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit to win 47-46.
That win snapped a seven-game Whitman winning streak dating back to the end of the 2002-03 season.
The Whitman women have had much less luck in recent years against George Fox. The Bruins have won the last 10 meetings, including a first-round playoff game at the end of the 2008-09 season.
Whitman's last victory over George came in late December of 2006.
Whitman also made the NWC playoffs in 2005-06, losing a first-round game by two points.
The Missionaries enjoyed their best season under current head coach Michelle Ferenz in 2003-04, rolling to a 19-6 record and share of the NWC title.