Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIII, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Men’s Basketball Starts Homestand Right

The Whitman Men’s basketball team is finally back in Walla Walla for a five-game home stand after playing five of their first six games on the road over winter break.

While most Whitties were catching up on sleep, the team returned on Dec. 27 to prepare for their first conference game of the season against Lewis & Clark College. Since then, they have gone 6-2, with their only conference losses coming on the road to NWC-leading Whitworth and in a close game at Pacific University.

“I think it’s gone really well. I think we’ve fought through a bunch of injuries and a bunch of poor shooting on the road. To be where we’re at right now with five of our first six games in conference on the road … is good. Not great, but good,” said Head Men’s Basketball Coach Eric Bridgeland.

The team has weathered multiple injuries which caused the absence of usual starters junior Tochi Oti and Senior Dominic Lippi, as well as nagging issues that have forced multiple players to sit out of practice each week so that they can play on the weekends.

“Practice, without all the bodies, it’s hard to do everything that we want to do. But we’re still able to get things done, we still get better. Not having that core out there all the time is definitely tough, but we’re pretty close,” said senior guard Matt Mounier.

The team’s up-and-down, aggressive style of play, including a full-court press on every defensive possession, amplifies the effect of the injuries.

“We play a certain way, but we need eight or nine healthy bodies, not six or seven … It’s a matter of having enough bodies to pressure. We play pressure defense, and you can’t do that with five guys, it takes nine or ten,” said Bridgeland.

The group is glad to be home, where they have shot miles better from three (46% vs. 20%) and from the line (76% vs. 62%) than on the road. In their two games this weekend, easy wins over Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound, they shot 39% from three and 73% from the line. Leading scorer and rebounder junior Evan Martin says the hectic travel schedule has contributed to the road struggles.

“Switching gyms can sometimes mess up your shot … We all have to step up and make the ones that we need to make and be confident in our shots. I think having five home games in a row coming up will be good for us,” he said.

The team holds the number two spot behind undefeated Whitworth in the conference standings. However, they downplayed any goals of catching Whitworth for the top seed, emphasizing what they can control.

“We always hope to get the one-seed, but we definitely think more about ourselves and what we can do to get better than watching what they do,” said Mounier.

Martin, who is shooting 65% from the field and went 6-for-7 this weekend, agreed.

“Everything is just one game at a time,” he said.

Last season ended in disappointment, with a loss to the third-seeded UPS in the conference semifinals. Despite the losses of Josh Duckworth ’14 and Ben Eisenhardt ’14 (now a professional player in Israel) the team is optimistic that their depth and cohesion can compensate.

“I think this is the tightest core group of guys that we’ve had. It’s probably one of the deepest teams we’ve had. I don’t know if we have a D-Mike [David Michaels, now a pro in South Korea] or a Ben Eisenhardt, but we have a bunch of really good players who can help in their own way and take over games,” said Mounier.

Bridgeland confirmed that the depth of this year’s team is a strength.

“This year we’re a lot better across the board, not just one or two guys. So if we can just get a set rotation that we’re comfortable with, that’s the key to everything,” said Bridgeland.

With eight games remaining in conference play, the team will need to push through the injuries for now and hope for the best as playoffs loom ahead.

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