Kip's Corner 2007-08: Bearcat Hoop Internet Release (NWC Tournament Edition)

By Kip Ioane

Bearcats Win Four-Way Tie for Third and Final Playoff Spot: Despite dropping its final two regular season games, the Willamette University men’s basketball team earned the third and final bid into the NWC Tournament. The Bearcats’ 4-2 record against Linfield College, Lewis and Clark College and Pacific University gave WU a tie-breaker advantage after all four teams tied for third place in the NWC at 9-7.

Willamette, which lost at the University of Puget Sound, 127-121 in two overtimes on Saturday, Feb. 23, will travel back to UPS for an NWC Semifinal battle with the Loggers on Thursday, February 28. Tip-off in Tacoma, Wash., is scheduled for 7 p.m. (PST).

Breaking Down the Bearcats

WillametteUniversity.gif• Junior post Kyler McClary averaged 27.5 points per game over the weekend, including a career-high 30 points in WU’s 77-68 loss at Pacific on Friday, Feb. 22.
• Sophomore post Cameron Mitchell turned in a dominating effort against UPS, scoring 36 points and pulling down 14 rebounds. Mitchell was 10 of 11 from the free throw line, including two charity shots with 30 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime.
• Senior wing Mike Smith averaged 20 points per game over the weekend, including a career-high 29 points at Puget Sound.
• Freshman point guard Robbie Kunke handed out 10 assists against the Loggers on Saturday night.

Statistically Speaking
• WU finished the regular season #1 in the NWC in field goal percentage during conference game, with the Bearcats hitting 50.3% of their shots.
• WU finished #1 in the NWC in assists, averaging 16.69 per game.
• WU finished #2 in the NWC in 3-point shooting, as the ‘Cats converted 39.3% of their shots from behind the arc
• WU finished #2 in the NWC in blocked shots with 2.63 blocks per game.
• WU finished #2 in the NWC in rebounding margin at +4.1 per game.
• WU finished #4 in the NWC in field goal percentage defense by holding opponents to 45.7% shooting.
• WU finished #4 in the NWC in scoring average with 78.8 points per contest
• WU finished the regular season with an 11-14 record, including 9-7 in the NWC and 6-2 at Cone Field House.

Projected Depth Chart for the NWC Tournament

Point Guard
Starter - Robbie Kunke (Fr.)
Back-up - Ricky Thompson (Fr.)

Shooting Guard
Starter - Michael Smith (Sr.)
Back-up - Nick Babij (Jr.)

Wing
Starter - Corey Costantino (Jr.)
Back-up - Simon Currie (Jr.)

Post
Starter - Kyler McClary (Jr.)
Back-up - Ian Mansfield (Sr.)

Post
Starter - Tain Cantrell (Jr.)
Back-up - Cameron Mitchell (So.)

Head Coach Gordie James and the Bearcats will take on UPS in the NWC Semifinal.The Third Time's a Charm
The NWC Tournament will involve a distinct revenge factor this season, as Willamette will be trying to avoid losing three times to the University of Puget Sound in the same season. UPS defeated the Bearcats 90-75 in Salem, Ore., on Jan. 26 and slipped past Willamette 127-121 in two overtimes in Tacoma on Feb. 23).

Willamette faced a similar situation two seasons ago in the NWC Semifinal and wound up losing for the third time in one season to Whitworth University (then known as Whitworth College). Interestingly enough, if UPS were to defeat the Bearcats in the NWC Semifinal, the Loggers would face the same Whitworth team that defeated them twice during the 2007-08 regular season.

Postseason Road Warriors
Since the return of the NWC Tournament for the 1999-00 season, WU has played a total of six NWC Tournament games (no tournament was held during the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons). Only two of Willamette’s recent NWC Tournament games have been played in the friendly confines of Cone Field House on the WU campus. Below is a look at WU’s NWC postseason history since 1999-00:

1999-00
@ Lewis & Clark, 68-64 Win
@ Linfield, 77-70 Win
WU wins NWC Tournament

2001-02
Whitworth, 64-49 Loss

2002-03
Lewis & Clark, 79-74 Win (2 OT)
@ Whitworth, 77-64 Loss

2005-06
@ Whitworth, 69-66 Loss

Expect the Century Mark
Despite their opposing preferences in playing style, Willamette and Puget Sound have put on quite a show in their recent meetings. Each team has topped the century mark three times in the past four games, and there have been a total of five overtimes played during those encounters. Here is a look at the last four games in the WU vs. UPS series.

Dec. 1, 2006 - @ UPS 140, WU 137 (3 OT)
Jan. 26, 2007 - @ WU 119, UPS 108
Jan. 26, 2008 - UPS 90, @ WU 75
Feb. 28, 2008 - @UPS 127, WU 121 (2 OT)

Scouting the Opponents

PugetSound.gifThe University of Puget Sound finished the regular season at 18-6, including 11-5 in the NWC (2nd place). Head Coach Justin Lunt has guided the NWC’s top scoring team with 92.2 points per conference game. UPS also leads the NWC in conference games in scoring margin (+7.4), steals (12.75 avg.) and turnover margin (+5.44).

The Loggers’ high-octane, pressing system is keyed by point guard Antwan Williams, with 17.3 points and 5.7 assists per game, post Jason Foster, with 18.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest, and post Robert Krauel, with 14.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Ten UPS players see at least 10 minutes of playing time per game, and will apply constant pressure to the opponents. UPS swept Willamette during the regular season, and has won three of the last four contests between the Loggers and the Bearcats. Puget Sound haswon five consecutive games against Willamette in Tacoma. The Bearcats’ last victory at UPS was on Jan. 31, 2003.

Up Next with a Bearcat Win
If Willamette is victorious on Thursday, the Bearcats will play at Whitworth University in the NWC Championship game on Saturday, March 1 in Spokane, Wash. Game time is set for 8 p.m. (PST). The winner of the NWC Tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III National Tournament.

Kyler McClary leads Willamette with 17.3 points per game.

Kyler McClary leads Willamette with 17.3 points per game.