Hepp's hot shooting not enough to cool off Whitworth in NWC title game

SPOKANE, Wash. — Whitworth (23-3) bolted to leads of 9-0 and 18-3, and never trailed thereafter, en route to a 77-64 Northwest Conference tournament championship victory over visiting Willamette (19-7).

With the win, the Pirates earned the NWC’s automatic berth into the 48-team NCAA Division III tournament, which begins Thursday with first-round games at campus sites. The Bearcats’ slim national tournament hopes hinge on earning one of seven at-large berths among the 36 conferences that qualify its champion.

The national tournament bracket will be released by the NCAA on Sunday.

Though the Bearcats dug themselves into the early hole, they were never out of the game until the final two minutes thanks to the shooting of senior point guard Ryan Hepp. Hepp made his first five three-point shots in the game, four in the first half, and finished with a career-high 30 points. He hit 11 of 20 shots from the field, including 7 of 10 treys.

Willamette also got nine points and six rebounds from Marques Johnson.

The Pirates were led by Bryan Depew, the conference’s player of the year. Depew scored 29 points. He made 10 of 15 shots.

Whitworth led 38-30 at halftime. The Pirates forced the Bearcats into an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers.

Willamette earned the right to play Whitworth for the tournament title with a 79-74 double-overtime victory Thursday night against Lewis & Clark.