Jim Hayford said his Whitworth basketball team never worries about losing. And for nearly three months, all the Pirates did was win, win and win some more.
In fact, Whitworth won its first 23 games before the streak was snapped in an 82-79 loss to Whitman.
The Pirates avenged the setback in the Northwest Conference Tournament championship game on Saturday, racing by the Missionaries 74-50 at the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
“We expect to win every game,” Hayford said. “But I am a little surprised we were able to win so many games in a row. I feel fortunate to coach this team.”
A balanced scoring attack has fueled the success, which is why the second-ranked Pirates are poised to make a run at an NCAA Division III national championship.
The success starts with senior guard Mike Taylor. The NWC Player of the Year is clicking for 19.8 points per game and is one of five players on the team who has made at least 20 3-pointers (43).
Senior forward David Riley is pumping in 16.6 points per outing while junior forward Jack Loofburrow and junior post Felix Friedt are both averaging 12.4 points.
Riley leads the team in treys (73), and as a team, the Pirates are shooting 49.2 percent from the field.
“The three keys for us is that we execute our offense, we do a good job of offensive rebounding and we recruit good shooters,” Hayford said.
Whitworth isn’t bad on the defensive end of the floor either, holding opponents to 38.3 percent shooting. Hayford said that is a credit to great team defense.
As for the potential of a title run, Hayford said it all comes down to never being satisfied.
“Our focus has to be good, but we also have to want to get better in each game,” Hayford said. “As long as we play hard and continue to improve, we’ll have a chance to be successful.”
Need To Know
• Xavier‘s run of dominance in the Atlantic-10 will likely continue. The No. 25 Musketeers survived a furious rally attempt by in-state rival Dayton, winning 66-62 at the UD Arena, and are within striking distance of a fifth consecutive championship. Xavier only needs to beat Charlotte at home and St. Louis on the road to win the title outright. Tu Holloway led the charge for Xavier, pouring in 26 points and rose to the occasion when the Musketeers needed him most. The Flyers rallied from an 11-point deficit to tie the score at 59-59 with 1:41 left before Holloway hit two free throws and knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Musketeers breathing room. Holloway scored 16 of Xavier’s final 24 points and led the Musketeers to their 11th win over the Flyers in the last 13 meetings.
• Steve Kinder has created excitement in the program while making the most of his first season as the head coach of Humboldt State. His magical run continued last week when the Lumberjacks secured an outright California Collegiate Athletic Association championship. HSU, ranked third in the nation in NCAA Division II, toppled Cal State Dominguez Hills 71-62 in front of a sold-out crowd at Lumberjack Arena Wednesday night. Junior guard Brandon Sperling lit up the Toros to the tune of a season-high 23 points, but it was two 3-pointers by senior guard Ernie Spada that highlighted the evening. His two treys gave him 198 in his career, the most in school history. The Lumberjacks led 35-26 at halftime, thanks to a trey by Spada at the buzzer, and never looked back as they earned payback for one of their two losses. The Toros defeated HSU 76-59 in January.
• Wells College lost to Penn State-Harrisburg not once but twice during the regular season. But the Express came back to beat the top-seeded Nittany Lions when it really mattered the most, toppling PSU-H to the tune of 75-72 in overtime in the North Eastern Athletic Conference championship game. Terry Harrison hit two free throws with four seconds remaining to seal the deal. He finished the game with 20 points and nine rebounds and averaged 19.3 points and eight rebounds during the tournament to earn MVP honors. Harrison’s sensational performance helped Wells punch a ticket to its first ever NCAA Division III tournament appearance. In fact, this will be the first NCAA postseason appearance for any team at the school.
• Kyle Kuric played a pivotal role in Louisville’s 62-59 overtime win against No. 4 Pittsburgh on Sunday at the KFC YUM! Center. After having his game-winning shot attempt in regulation blocked, Kuric drilled a 3-pointer early in the extra session and threw down a dunk with less than a second remaining as the 16th-ranked Cardinals stunned the Panthers in a Big East showdown.
• James Jones lived up to his billing as the Freedom Conference Player of the Year, lighting up the scoreboard for 32 points as Delaware Valley defeated DeSales 79-58 to secure its first ever conference championship. Jones scored 26 in the second half and extended his free-throw streak to 58 by going 13 of 13 from the line.
• Josh Magette shined for Alabama-Huntsville in its win against North Alabama Saturday night. The junior guard torched the Lions for a career-high 30 points as the Chargers earned an 83-76 win and wrapped up their second consecutive Gulf South Conference East Division crown.
• Colorado roared back from a 22-point first-half deficit and handed No. 5 Texas its second loss in three games, winning 91-89 at the Coors Events Center on Saturday. Alec Burks pumped in 33 points and pulled down 10 rebounds as the Buffaloes snapped a six-game losing streak to the Longhorns.
• DeShaun Thomas scored 22 points and led No. 5 Ohio State to an 82-61 win against Indiana on Sunday at Value City Arena. Thomas had scored only 13 points in his last seven games but broke out of the slump in a big way to put the Buckeyes in a position to return to No. 1 in the nation.
• Tarleton State held Angelo State 30 points below its season average and did not allow a field goal in the final 12 minutes of the game as the Texans stretched their win streak to eight games with a 58-44 Lone Star Conference road victory.