WALLA WALLA - The Whitman College men's basketball team is in Tacoma tonight to battle Puget Sound in one of two Northwest Conference playoff semifinal games. The game starts at 7 p.m. in Memorial Fieldhouse on the Puget Sound campus.
Fans not able to see No. 3 Whitman (11-5 NWC, 18-7) square off with No. 2 Puget Sound (11-5 NWC, 19-6) in person can follow the action online through Whitman's athletic website, whitman.edu/content/athletics.
A victory tonight means Whitman advances to play in Saturday night's playoff championship tilt - the winner of which get the NWC's automatic berth in the NCAA Division III national championship field.
Tonight's other semifinal has No. 4 Lewis & Clark (9-7 NWC, 14-11) playing No. 1 Whitworth (15-1 NWC, 22-3) in Spokane.
If Whitman wins today and Lewis & Clark upends Whitworth, Whitman will host Saturday night's championship game.
Victories by Whitman and Whitworth today means that Saturday's playoff finale will take place in Spokane.
Puget Sound and Whitman finished the regular season in a tie for second place in the NWC standings, but the Loggers got the No. 2 seed and hosting rights for Thursday's game by virtue of their two narrow victories over Whitman.
In this season's second meeting between the two teams, Whitman worked its way to a two-point lead on its home floor late last month. But Riggs Yarbro came off the Puget Sound bench to hit a pair of jumpers in the final 90 seconds to lift the Loggers to a two-point victory.
David Michaels led Whitman in that game with 16 points, five assists and four rebounds. Ignas Pavilonis hit four 3s for 12 points (plus three steals) while Drew Raher added 10 points. Josh Duckworth chipped in with eight points, six rebounds and six assists.
Yarbro with 13 points was one of four Loggers scoring in double figures. Kaleb Shelton topped Puget Sound that night with 17 points while Anthony Gittens doubled up with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
In this season's first meeting between the two schools, which was played early in January in Tacoma, Whitman held a one-point lead late in the game, but the Loggers parlayed an 8-1 spurt into a 68-63 victory
Michaels had 18 points and 11 rebounds in that game while LuQuam Thompson was a force with 15 points and six rebounds. Rex Holmes countered with 19 points for Puget Sound, which also got 15 points and 12 rebounds from Shelton.
Whitman, which won three of its final four games to grab a share of second place, was powered for much of the season by Michaels, who was named NWC Player of the Year after averaging 19.6 points and 6.2 rebounds on the season.
Ben Eisenhardt (8.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg) made a big impact after joining the Whitman roster at the semester break. Others in the deep Missionary rotation include Pavilonis, Raher, Duckworth and Thompson, along with Brandon Shaw, Peter Clark, Ryan Gilkey and Jordan Dickson, and Matt Mounier.
Gittens (12.3 points per game, 8.3 rebounds) leads a Puget Sound squad that has just as many weapons. Shelton (11.3 points, 5.7 rebounds) is another key while Derek Jobe (9.2 points) has added to the Logger depth.