BEARCAT BALANCE BEATS UPS, 77-68; Willamette Moves into First Place Tie in NWC

SALEM, OR — All five Bearcat starters scored in double figures as the Willamette University men’s basketball team handed the University of Puget Sound its first conference loss of the season, moving into a tie for the top spot of the NWC with a 77-68 victory at the Cone Field House Friday night.

The Bearcats, executing Coach Gordie James’ game plan to perfection, bolted to a 38-22 half-time lead, then hung on as the Loggers pulled to within four points in the waning seconds to raise their season record to 10-5, 6-1 in the NWC. The Loggers, ranked No. 7 in the nation, fall to 12-3 overall and 6-1 in conference.

Drew Miller (pictured above) led the Bearcats with 18 points, including the clinching lay-up with 34 seconds to play to put the Bearcats ahead 74-68. Jacob Baran, in his first start of the season had 12 points and a team-high nine rebounds. The senior hit 3-4 free throws down the stretch.

John Olinger scored 14 points and added a game-high seven assists to go along with three rebounds and three steals. CJ Stuvland chipped in 14 points and three rebounds. Ian Mansfield finished with ten points and five rebounds.

Freshman David Fife continued his impressive play, scoring six points, dishing off six assists and grabbing two steals in his 25 minutes of play.

For the Loggers, Zach McVey scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds. Chase Curtiss had 17 points and six rebounds. Antwan Williams added ten points for the Loggers who were held 33 points below their season scoring average of 101.5.

The Bearcats set the tone right from the start, scoring the first seven points of the game on lay-ups by Olinger and Baran, and a 3-pointer from Miller. When Stuvland scored his first hoop with 17:20 to play, the Bearcats led 9-2.

Combining a patient offense with a stifling defense and solid rebounding, the Bearcats stretched the lead to 34-17 on consecutive baskets by Fife and a 3-pointer from Stuvland with just under four minutes to play in the half.

Willamette shots 62% from the field in the first half to only 33% for the Loggers. More importantly, the Bearcats had 11 turnovers to 12 for the Loggers. UPS forces 28.5 turnovers per game with its pressing defense, but the Bearcats never wilted under the constant pressure.

UP battled back in the second half, making run after run the Bearcats beat back. The Loggers got within 8 at 38-30 with 16:53 to play on McVey’s lay-up, but an old-fashioned 3-point play from Miller got the lead back to 11.

It was 56-49 on another jumper from McVey before a Mansfield lay-up pushed the lead back to nine. Josh Erickson’s 3-pointer got the lead back to 11 with 7:30 to play. And the Loggers still kept coming.

UPS scored eight straight to close within 69-64, but again the Bearcats responded, this time with a Fife jumper and a Baran free throw to push the lead to 72-65 with 1:08 to play, and the Bearcats managed to run the clock from there.

Willamette shot 61% for the game, including 5-11 from beyond the arc. UPS shot 42% and made only 1-12 3-point shots. The Bearcats were 18-21 from the stripe. Stuvland was 6-6 and Olinger 5-5 from the line. UPS was 15-24 from the foul line.

Rebounds went to the Loggers, 31-30.

Willamette faces another tough test Saturday night, talking on the George Fox Bruins at 8 p.m.

Drew Miller

Drew Miller