Sports & Outdoors

Preview: men’s basketball to build off of 2011-12 season, return to NWC final

Men’s basketball at Puget Sound, coming off of a successful 2011-2012 season, is looking to repeat their trip to the Northwest Conference finals and this time attempt to capture the title.
Last year, the Loggers finished 20-7 overall and 11-5 in the NWC to finish second in the conference. Puget Sound had a thrilling start to the 2011-2012 season, going 10-0 in their first 10 games to complete one of the best starts in school history.
Led by head coach Justin Lunt, the Loggers reached the Northwest Conference final tournament and faced off against Whitman in the semifinals. In the first half, the number-two-seeded Puget Sound outscored Whitman almost 2 to 1, leading the Missionaries 41-28 at halftime. Whitman fought back in the second half before being edged out 79-62.
With the victory over Whitman, the team advanced to the NWC Championship final for the fourth time in Lunt’s six years as head coach, although it had been three years since the team had found themselves in that position.
The Loggers came into the game ranked eighth in the West Region. In the final, the Loggers took on the number one seed, the Whitworth Pirates, who they had faced in their three previous NWC final games (from which the Loggers pulled out one victory).
The Pirates were the only team in the NWC that managed to beat the Loggers in both of their conference matchups during the season, and unfortunately for the Loggers, this trend held true in the final.
Despite a great fight on the part of the Loggers, who scored 41 points from the bench, 19 of which came from current senior Rex Holmes (Chico, Calif.), it was not enough to propel them past the Pirates, who outscored them 86-71. This was the third NWC final loss to Whitworth that Puget Sound had faced.
Despite the loss to Whitworth, it was undeniable that the Loggers were one tough team to beat last season. In one season, they turned around a losing record of 10-15, 7-9 NWC and became one of the top teams in the league, leading the conference in rebounds with an average 40 per game.
Three Loggers were recognized with All-Conference Honors, including senior captain Kaleb Shelton-Johnson (Tacoma, Wash.) with First Team Honors  and senior Anthony Gittens (Tacoma, Wash.) with Second Team Honors. Both have since graduated.
With five players graduating, four of whom were starters, the Loggers looked to recruit and rebuild their team for this season. In addition to success in recruiting, they also continue to rely on the talent of returning players, such as sophomore Derek Jobe (Puyallup, Wash.) and current senior Riggs Yarbro (Moses Lake, Wash.).
Last year, Jobe had a standout freshman season. He was one of only two freshmen in the league to earn NWC Second Team Honors for his performance on the court, including achieving a scoring average of 9.2 points per game, the highest average for a freshman that Lunt has seen in his time at Puget Sound.
He led the team in long shots as well, making 41 three-pointers during the season. Jobe was also recognized by as the West Region Rookie of the Year. Yarbro, a biochemistry major, was a key scorer for the Loggers as well, with an average of 9.0 points per game.
Lunt is optimistic about his team’s chances for success this year, based on the raw talent and diverse skills of his players, both returners and newcomers.
“We are very excited about our team and this upcoming season. We have some key returners and a great recruiting class, which makes up for a lot of depth. This is one of the quickest and most versatile teams we have had,” Lunt said.
“We really like the way we can pressure the ball on defense and how well we can exploit mismatches on the offensive side. It’s very early in the season, but we like where we are headed.”
The Loggers’ season kicks off with an alumni game on Nov. 3, and it begins in earnest on Nov. 16 against New Hope Christian.