Defensive intensity has been the mantra for the Puget Sound men’s basketball team since the turn of the New Year. After a scorching ten-game winning streak to start the season, the Loggers hit a couple of speed bumps over break, compiling a 6-4 record since the last edition of The Trail and leading to some adjustments on the defensive end.
The four losses in five games to Redlands, Whitworth, Pacific Lutheran and George Fox (the latter three forming a three-game losing streak), exposed some weaknesses on the defensive end for Puget Sound.
That is when Head Coach Justin Lunt introduced his new up-tempo, high-pressure defense.
“The defensive intensity was lacking in the two losses against PLU and George Fox,” Lunt said.
In their first game of the spring semester, the Loggers put their new defensive mindset on display for the home crowd to end their losing streak, defeating Linfield 72-55. The Loggers were able to force 17 turnovers in the game.
“We played with an overall sense of urgency for 40 minutes. We had shown glimpses for 10, 25 minutes, but this weekend, the sense of urgency was very high. There weren’t any setbacks,” Lunt said.
The defensive dominance was once again on display the next weekend, first against Willamette, then Pacific. Hosting the Bearcats, the Loggers pulled away towards the end of the first half, taking a 49-32 lead into the locker room. After the half, the Loggers were able to coast to an 85-64 win, forcing a season high 30 turnovers.
The next night, hosting Pacific, the defense (and shooting) was especially effective in the last twelve minutes of the first half. With roughly 12:30 left in the half, leading 12-11, the Loggers put the pressure on.
The full court press not only forced numerous turnovers by the Boxers, but it also relegated them to using only 25 or so seconds of their 35 second shot clock to actually run a play. This led to bad shots, many of which were altered by leading scorer and rebounder Anthony Gittens (Tacoma, Wash.) (12.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game), who controlled the paint with two blocks to go along with his 11 rebounds.
The wins against Linfield, Willamette and Pacific, combined with a tough 76-74 win over Lewis and Clark, put the University of Puget Sound into second place in the Northwest Conference, tied with Whitman and Pacific Lutheran.
While the three teams sport a 7-3 record in conference play, the Loggers appear to hold an edge over Whitman, a result of their 68-63 win over the Missionaries on Jan. 6. “We came out ready and focused and fired up, we threw some punches, took some punches, but we never gave in,” said Gittens, who was one point shy of a double-double.
Both Gittens and Lunt have their eyes set on a conference championship, as well as the ensuing bid to the National Tournament, a feat, Lunt said, that would be accomplished as a result of the seniors, whom he described as “top notch” in terms of leadership.
To win the conference, the Loggers will need to surpass Whitworth, currently sitting at 9-1 in conference and ranked No. 11 in the nation by d3hoops.com. Fortunately for UPS, they will have another crack at the Pirates Friday, Feb. 3. The Loggers will look to avenge an 80-67 loss on Jan. 7.
With their revamped defensive philosophy, the Loggers’ season goals and a win on Friday seem plausible. That, though, will depend on the players themselves.
“We need to keep up the defensive intensity. On offense we can get whatever we want, but we are a really good defensive team when we focus” Gittens said.
PHOTO COURTESY/LAURENCE STACK