Men's Basketball | Thursday, December 31, 2009
Be Proud of the Bearcats and their Trip to Portland
SALEM, ORE. -- It's the holiday season. With that in mind, we are happy to bring you an interesting story that features a winter journey and a major battle against a bigger foe. You'll find excellent determination and fortitude exhibited by the characters in our tale.
It's not quite an epic story. It just seemed that way while it was happening.
The Not-So-Short Road Trip
We begin our journey by meeting up with the Willamette University men's basketball team at about 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 29, as the Bearcats were loading onto a charter bus for their 45-minute road trip to take on Portland State University. The 'Cats, who compete in NCAA Division III, were scheduled to face their in-state rivals from NCAA Division I at 5:05 p.m.
As the team departed, a changing mixture of rain, sleet and snow was falling. By the time the Bearcats were on Interstate 5 heading north toward Portland, the combination of winter weather and holiday travel had the roadway filled with traffic -- but the lanes were moving only a bit under their regular pace.
By the time Willamette's bus was nearing the Newberg exit, traffic was even more packed and was moving at a slow clip. Occasionally, the bus had to stop to wait until traffic started moving again.
This slow pace continued into the outskirts of Portland, past the I-205 interchange and past the exit for the Bridgeport Village mall. Just a couple of mile later, the bus came to a halt with the Landmark Ford auto dealership outside the west-facing windows. Landmark Ford remained in our sight for another 1 hour and 30 minutes, as traffic moved at most the length of two football fields.
Eventually, our gallant bus driver made the key decision of the trip. It was a choice that probably made the difference in being able to start the game before Tuesday turned into Wednesday. The driver took the I-5 truck route near exit 294.
The truck route veers at most a few hundred yards away from the main lanes of I-5 and goes for less than a mile before reuniting with the roadway. As it turned out, the truck route allowed the Bearcats to bypass a multi-car wipeout in the north-bound lanes while also avoiding two jack-knifed tractor trailers in the south-bound lanes.
Willamette was now only about seven miles from the Portland State campus. And the north-bound lanes were almost free of traffic. The few vehicles passing through after completing the truck route were met with more snow and ice on the road, but were able to make steady progress through "the curves" and down into Portland.
After reaching the area near downtown, the Bearcats encountered another traffic logjam on I-405. Cars, trucks and the bus carrying the Bearcats all came to a halt.
With the bus completely stopped, Head Coach Kip Ioane asked post player Joe Penkala (Sr., So. elig., Niles, IL/Loyola Academy) to check the GPS on his phone to see how far away the team was from PSU. Penkala said that the PSU campus was 0.9 miles away.
Ioane, his assistant coaches and the Bearcats got off the bus, moved to the far right side of the roadway, and headed to the nearby exit to downtown. A short time later, the 'Cats arrived at the PSU gymnasium.
It was about 8:15 p.m., roughly 5 hours and 45 minutes after the team pulled out from the Sparks Center on the Willamette campus.
WU Athletic Director Mark Majeski, along with myself, plus the wife and children of Assistant Coach Nelson Lomax, reached the campus minutes later on the bus. We were all glad to have reached our destination, but we had to wait for the PSU versus Oregon State University women's basketball game to be completed before the Bearcats could take on the Vikings.
The PSU and OSU women's teams were warming up when the Bearcats arrived at the Peter W. Stott Center. The women's game, originally scheduled to start at about 7:15 p.m. following the men's game, tipped off at approximately 8:30 p.m. after OSU had difficulty getting from its hotel to the PSU campus.
Everyone in Willamette's traveling party -- players, coaches and support staff -- grabbed dinner at a nearby Subway sandwich shop while the women's game was in progress. The Subway employees, who were also making sandwiches for OSU's post-game meal, did an outstanding job and the meal was great. The food seemed even better after the lengthy ride to Portland.
The Bearcats Take on the Vikings
The on-the-court battle between Willamette and Portland State finally got underway at 10:43 p.m., more than five-and-a-half hours later than scheduled. A hearty group of just over 320 fans -- including a vocal contingent of Bearcat faithful -- were on hand to watch the encounter.
Willamette gave the Vikings all they could handle. The Bearcats held a couple of early leads and the teams were tied four times during roughly the first six minutes. PSU put together a run to build a 32-21 advantage with just over nine minutes left in the half.
The remainder of the game was a nearly continuous string of alternating offensive surges by the two teams. Willamette would pull closer, then PSU would extend the lead with a run of its own.
Early in the second half, the Vikings built a 17-point margin at 60-43 with 17:46 remaining and it appeared PSU might turn the game into a rout. The Vikings' hopes of a sizable win disappeared when Willamette answered with a 7-0 run. Eventually, the Bearcats cut the lead to 71-64 with 12:43 to go.
PSU shot back out to a 14-point lead, only to have Willamette pull within six points, 80-74, with 6:30 on the clock. The rest of the game was similar. WU was unable to catch the Vikings, but the 'Cats reduced the deficit to seven points with less than a minute remaining and forced PSU to make 5 of 6 free throws in the final 33 seconds. PSU won the game, 97-90, with the action ending at about 12:40 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 30.
Mitchell Reaches 1,000 Points
Cameron Mitchell (Sr., Post, Portland, OR/Grant HS/U. of Redlands) put on a stellar performance in his hometown. He scored 10 points in the first half and finished the night -- and the early morning -- with a game-high 28 points. He also grabbed nine rebounds.
Mitchell's scoring barrage moved him to 1,000 career points. He has scored 858 points at Willamette since he transferred to the Bearcats. He scored 142 points as a freshman at the University of Redlands.
Although Mitchell led the way, he wasn't the only Bearcat with quality stats during the game. Taylor Mounts (So., Post, Kailua, HI/Iolani School) scored 13 points, grabbed five rebounds and earned two steals. Ryan Meehan (So., Wing, Beaverton, OR/Beaverton HS/MSU-Billings) tallied 12 points, hit 3 of 5 three-pointers and earned two assists, two blocked shots and two steals.
Scott Schoettgen (So., Wing, Columbia, CA/Sonora HS) recorded 11 points, sank 3 of 5 three-pointers and hauled down five boards. Marcus Holmes (Jr., G, Seattle, WA/Garfield HS) finished the game with 10 points and six assists. Robbie Kunke (Jr., Wing, Clackamas, OR/Clackamas HS) registered eight points and led all players with 10 assists and five steals.
The Bearcats made many athletic plays and scored several points off fast-break opportunities. Willamette connected on 10 three-point baskets and forced the Vikings into 22 turnovers. After losing the ball 15 times in the first half, Willamette made just six turnovers in the second half.
Both teams excelled at shot blocking. The Vikings were credited with seven blocks, while the Bearcats blocked four shots.
Willamette's offense, with its dribble-drive emphasis and quality passing, worked well throughout most of the game. The Bearcats shot 49.3% overall, including 51.4% in the second half. Mitchell was 13 of 20 from the field, as he increased his season scoring average to 20.7 points per game.
The Bearcats don't have to worry about traveling this weekend. They will open Northwest Conference play at home on Saturday, Jan. 2 against Whitworth University and on Sunday, Jan. 3 against Whitman College. Both games are scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. (PST) at Cone Field House.