By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director
SPOKANE, Wash. -- Senior guard George Valle scored 20 points to lead three Pirates in double figures, as #5-ranked Whitworth University improved to 22-1 on the season with a 72-53 victory against Willamette University on Saturday, Feb. 13 at the Whitworth Fieldhouse. The Bearcats trailed just 22-17 with 4:30 left in the first half, but Whitworth owned a 33-21 lead at halftime and quickly expanded its lead in the second half.
Whitworth, listed fifth in the D3hoops.com Top 25, moved its Northwest Conference record to 13-1. The Pirates hold the conference lead by one game over Whitman College (12-2). With the loss, Willamette slipped to 7-16 overall, 4-10 in the NWC.
Joining Valle with double-digit scoring for Whitworth were Christian Jurlina, who chipped in 15 points, and Kenny Love, who registered 13. Drew Sears led all players with 14 rebounds, including eight on the offensive glass.
Willamette's top scorers were Brandon Luedtke (Sr., F, Meridian, ID/Mountain View HS) and Alex Brown (Sr., F, Happy Valley, OR/Clackamas HS), each with 10 points. Luedtke hauled down a team-high eight rebounds. He moved past the 700-mark in career rebounds and now has 703 boards.
The Pirates scored the first 11 points of the game. Nico Troplent (So., W, Los Angeles, CA/Cathedral HS) earned Willamette's first basket on a steal and a layup with 14:05 left in the first half. Brendon McCullough (So., G, San Antonio, TX/Home Schooled) added a jumper for the Bearcats just over half-a-minute later.
A 4-0 surge on layups by Valle and Ben Bishop created a 15-4 lead for Whitworth. The Bearcats later trailed 20-10 following a jumper by Valle with 7:28 on the clock.
Matt Billingsley-Peeler (So., G, Portland, OR/Lincoln HS) hit a 3-point shot 16 seconds later to start a 7-2 run by the Bearcats. Willamette moved within 22-17 on a jumper by Brown.
Whitworth gained some separation by responding with six consecutive points for an 11-point lead with 1:31 remaining in the half. One minuter later, Derek Isaak recorded the final points of the hal on a 3-point shot.
The Pirates turned their 33-21 halftime margin into a 45-22 lead by starting the second half with a 12-1 run in just over three minutes. Jurlina began the surge with a traditional three-point play and Matt Staudacher soon added a 3-point basket.
Willamette was unable to recover from the run, as Whitworth improved its home record to 12-0 at home, including 8-0 in NWC games.
The Bearcats shot 31.7% from the field (20 of 63) and made just 4 of 20 three-point attempts (20.0%). Whitworth hit 42.4% of its shots (28 of 66), including 8 of 21 from 3-point range (38.1%).
Led by Sears' 14 boards, the Pirates achieved a 52-35 rebounding margin. Willamette committed just seven turnovers and forced Whitworth to lose the ball 11 times. The Bearcats gained a 13-8 advantage in points off turnovers.
The Bearcats will complete a string of three consecutive road games when they take on George Fox University on Tuesday, Feb. 16 in Newberg, Oregon. Game time is set for 8 p.m. (PST).