Whit men complete three game California sweep

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Credit: Jacobson
Credit: Jacobson

Whitman men’s basketball is off to its hottest start in a decade as the Missionaries have hustled their way to a 4-2 record this season following a 3-0 sweep of their annual California swing.

The Missionaries kicked off their Thanksgiving road trip with blowout wins over California Institute of Technology and West Coast Baptist College, defeating their California counterparts 78-63 and 86-69, respectively. The Missionary press was particularly stifling in these games forcing Cal Tech and West Coast Baptist into a combined 81 turnovers.

Whitman’s last game of the road trip proved to be much closer. The Missionaries needed a last second layup from first-year Brady Brent to cap off a 94-93 comeback win over an impressive University of Redlands team.

Whitman showed their ability to finish in their first close game of the season as they erased a 88-81 deficit with under six minutes left to play.

“Winning a game like that is remarkable; it shows our team’s resilience, shows we have the extra gear it takes to win games at the end,” sophomore forward David Michaels said.

Head Coach Eric Bridgeland has taken a young group of players that showed promise during last year’s 10-16 season and turned them into a hard-nosed unit that showcases frightening inside-outside balance on the offensive and an intense full court press defense that rarely gives the opposition room to breathe.

Six Missionary players averaged double figures in scoring, led by forward senior Daniel Davidson at 12.7 points per game. This balanced attack is facilitated by Coach Bridgeland’s extensive use of his bench: In the Missionaries’ first home game of the season Nov. 20 against Portland Bible College, a 95-73 Whitman victory, 11 Missionaries saw game time and 10 of them scored at least one basket.

While this may not fully translate when conference play begins, Coach Bridgeland can sleep peacefully knowing his entire squad can ball.

“We have a lot of guys that can play, which is key because we need a lot of energy out there and 13 or 14 guys can combine to give us a lot more [than only five],” said Bridgeland.

The men’s squad has shown balance, but several of its players have shown themselves to be exceptional at specific facets of the game. Sophomore point guard Brandon Shaw, the team’s leading returning scorer, after averaging 16.6 points per game last year, is almost unguardable off the dribble. His skill set has been a perfect fit for Coach Bridgeland’s dribble-drive offense.

The offense emphasizes penetration into the lane by the point guard. Depending on how successful the player is with his drive, he can either finish at the hoop with a layup or kick the ball back out to the perimeter. First-year Peter Clark is often on the receiving end of these passes, and as a result he is averaging almost 10 three-point attempts per game. Whitman has been able to keep its opponents on its heels throughout games with this constant attack.

The Missionaries’ press defense has been just as aggressive as the offense. Opposing teams have wilted under the constant pressure, offering up almost 30 turnovers per game: leaving Whitman +9.3 in turnover margin, which leads the Northwest Conference. The press forces opposing offenses out of their natural rhythm allowing the Missionaries to dictate the pace of the game. First-year Drew Raher is the catalyst for the hustle the press requires; he always seems to outwork everyone else on the floor when chasing down loose balls.

This is true of the whole Whitman team: While they may often be undersized compared to their opposition, they make up for it with constant hustle and seemingly endless energy. So far this season, the team has been out-rebounded by 50 on the defensive glass, but on the offensive boards they are winning the battle by just about 2-1, creating a plethora of second-chance opportunities on the offense and leading to high point totals.

The press, the hallmark of this hustle, forces opposing big men who usually don’t handle the ball to bring it upcourt as their team’s point guards and wings find themselves well covered all the way up the court.

Bridgeland knows his team’s success is predicated on their heart and hustle.

“Given our style of play we know that if we play harder than the other team we have a good chance [to win], however, if we are outworked our style of play can cause us problems,” said Bridgeland.

The press does have its flaws as it is somewhat of an all-or-nothing strategy; if it is broken by successful long passes the opposition will be rewarded with wide open lay up opportunities. Portland Bible College proved this as they were able to break the Missionary press with long outlet passes which led to easy layups for the Wildcats. Whitman will need to tighten the screws before Northwest Conference play begins on Saturday, Jan. 2, against Lewis and Clark College in Portland.