Puget Sound Takes Second in NWC with 127-121 Win over Bearcats in Two Overtimes

By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110

TACOMA, WASH. -- Willamette University rallied from an 11-point deficit with 4:15 remaining to force overtime, but the University of Puget Sound, ranked #23 in NCAA Division III, outlasted the Bearcats, 127-121 in two overtimes, on Saturday, Feb. 23 in a battle for second place in the Northwest Conference. Puget Sound improved to 18-6, 11-5 in the NWC.

Willamette went to 11-14 overall, 9-7 in the conference, and qualified for the NWC Tournament by winning a tie-breaker for the third and final playoff spot. Willamette, Linfield, Lewis & Clark and Pacific all tied for third place. In head-to-head games between the four teams, WU earned a 4-2 record, with Linfield 3-3, Lewis & Clark 3-3 and Pacific 2-4.

The Bearcats will return to Puget Sound on Thursday, Feb. 28 for the NWC semifinal game. The winner of the semifinal contest will travel to Whitworth to take on the Pirates on Saturday, March 1 for the NWC championship.

In Saturday's game, Cameron Mitchell (So., Post, Portland, OR/Grant HS/U. of Redlands) led Willamette with a career-high 36 points and topped all players with 14 rebounds. He made 13 of 19 field goals and sank 10 of 11 free throws, including 6 of 6 in the overtime periods. Mike Smith (Sr., Wing, Talent, OR/Phoenix HS) tacked on 29 points and Kyler McClary (Jr., Post, Hillsboro, OR/Glencoe HS) added 25 points.

UPS, which connected on 18 of 33 three-pointers (54.5%), received 24 points from Taylor Marsh and 22 points from Antwan Williams. Marsh hit 6 of 10 three-pointers to lead eight Loggers with at least one trifecta.

Willamette led for much of the first half, including a 27-21 advantage with 11:47 left in the period. UPS claimed its first lead of the game at 37-35 on a jumper by Marsh with 6:09 on the clock. Later in the half, WU took a 46-42 lead on a layup by Smith, but the Loggers closed the stanza with a 5-0 run. Austin Boyce sank a 3-pointer for UPS at the 1:05 mark and Kevin Wright added a dunk with two seconds left, following a steal by Boyce.

A 9-2 run at the start of the second half, increased the Loggers' lead to 56-48 with 17:55 to go. Steffond Brown gave UPS its first double-digit margin, 68-58, on a 3-pointer with 14:21 remaining. It was the third 3-pointer by UPS in less than a minute.

The barrage of trifectas might have enabled the Loggers to build an even larger lead, but WU scored a two-pointer for the next basket each time. After cutting the deficit to 68-60, the Bearcats gave up four points in a row, as UPS extended the lead to 74-60 at the 12:18 mark.

WU pulled within eight points, 90-82, with 5:49 left, following a free throw by Smith. Weston Wood answered with a 3-pointer for the Loggers, who regained a double-digit lead. The Loggers also led 97-86 with 4:15 on the clock, after a jumper by Jason Foster.

Willamette's comeback featured at least two points from four different players. Smith began the 13-2 run with a jump shot and Corey Costantino (Jr., Wing, Ashland, OR/Ashland HS) added two free throws. Williams gave UPS a 99-90 lead on a jumper with 2:46 remaining, but the Loggers didn't score again in regulation.

Smith added two free throws for Willamette at the 2:32 mark and McClary put in a layup 11 seconds later after a steal by Robbie Kunke (Fr., PG, Clackamas, OR/Clackamas HS). McClary reduced the lead to 99-96 with a basket at the 1:42 mark. Costantino hit a free throw with 1:09 to go, and Mitchell sank a pair of free throws with 37 seconds left to tie the score.

UPS held the ball until less than 10 seconds remained. Williams missed a jumper with about six second left and WU gained the rebound when the ball went out of bounds. The Bearcats called time-out, but were unable to score in the closing seconds.

Willamette's resiliency was tested again in the first overtime, as UPS led by four points twice, including 107-103 following a jumper by Williams with 3:16 left. Willamette tied the game at 107-107 on a basket by Mitchell with 1:38 remaining, but trailed by three-points, 112-109, after Wood hit a trifecta for UPS at the 29-second mark.

McClary scored on a jump shot with 11 seconds to go. The Bearcats fouled Robert Krauel one second later. He made the second of two free throws for a two-point lead. McClary tied the game, 113-113, when he successfully shot another jumper with two seconds left.

UPS owned a pair of two-point leads in the first two minutes of the second overtime, before WU created a 117-117 tie on a pair of foul shots by Mitchell at the 3:07 mark. Williams misfired on a 3-pointer for the Loggers and Mitchell hit a jump shot just for Willamette with 2:22 on the clock, giving the Bearcats a 119-117 lead.

On Puget Sound's next possession, Marsh sank a 3-pointer, as UPS moved in front by a single point. A basket by Foster and a free throw by Boyce increased the lead to 123-119 with 1:02 remaining. Mitchell put through two more free throws for Willamette at the 55 second mark, but the Loggers tallied the final four points of the game. Boyce made a jumper as the shot clock wound down on the next possession, and Marsh sank two free throws with six seconds left.

Willamette shot 59.2% for the game (45 of 76), including 69.2% during the second period (18 of 26). The Bearcats made 4 of 7 three-pointers (57.1%) and hit 27 of 40 free throws (67.5%). WU was 25 of 34 at the line 73.5% during the second half and the two overtimes.

UPS took advantage of its 18-for-33 three-point shooting to finish the night 46 of 84 from the floor (54.8%). The Loggers were successful on 10 of 14 shots (71.4%) in overtime. They finished the game 17 of 26 (65.4%) at the free throw line.

The Bearcats achieved a commanding 49-33 rebounding margin. In addition to Mitchell's game-high 14 boards, the Bearcats also received nine rebounds from McClary and a total of 11 from its two first-year point guards. Ricky Thompson (Fr., Temecula, CA/Temecula Valley HS) grabbed six rebounds and Kunke hauled down five. UPS forced WU into 23 turnovers, while the Loggers lost the ball 15 times.

Both teams reached the 100-point mark for the third time in their last four meetings. In 2006-07, UPS won 140-137 in three overtimes in Tacoma, Wash., and Willamette was victorious 119-108 in regulation in Salem, Ore. This year, the Loggers defeated the Bearcats, 90-75, on Jan. 26 in Salem.

BOX SCORE
University of Puget Sound 127, Willamette University 121
Cameron Mitchell scored a career-high 36 points and earned 14 rebounds against Puget Sound.

Cameron Mitchell scored a career-high 36 points and earned 14 rebounds against Puget Sound.