Linfield men find bright spots in dark times
The Linfield men’s basketball team (3-18, 2-10) has suffered crucial injuries to major post players Andrew Batiuk, Zach Meikle and Tim Logan. The injuries to Wildcats post players is devastating because a lot of their up-tempo style of offense goes through them.
Linfield coach Larry Doty said the injuries have been tough on the team because the depth on the team’s front line is now younger and more inexperienced.
With a slew of injuries and young players forced to learn on the fly, the Wildcats went 1-7 in January and are 0-2 to start February. With three wins this season, Linfield is on pace for its worst season in the program’s history with four games remaining.
“It’s been a struggle,” Doty said. “With younger guys and less depth, it’s a real challenge right now.”
With the pressure of having the worst season in Wildcat history, Doty said senior leader and starting point guard Brandon Harris is handling the pressure of needing wins better than expected.
“Brandon’s handled it pretty well,” Doty said. “He’s a smart player and understands that guys just have to step up. We’ve had private conversations, and conversations with the team that everyone has to do their part and their job.”
Linfield is fifth in the Northwest Conference in turnovers, and it has been a big problem during this stretch. The Wildcats had 12 turnovers in the first half of Saturday’s loss at George Fox.
Doty admitted it’s a stat that continues to hurt Linfield.
“We had 12 turnovers in the first half the other night,” Doty said. “That hurt us and has hurt us all year. It’s because we’re struggling to find offense. When you turn the ball over, you get fewer shots on goal and it’s just not good.”
It’s not all bad for the Wildcats. They’ve found a couple bright spots through such a dark stretch.
Sophomore Chris Dirks has relished the opportunity to start. Dirks has spent his first year and half on Linfield’s junior varsity team but has come through in big ways for the Wildcats lately.
In the Feb. 1 loss at George Fox, Dirks finished with a 10-point, 11-rebound double-double. One day earlier at Pacific Lutheran, Dirks came off the bench and scored six points and grabbed five rebounds. Against Lewis and Clark he had six points and nine rebounds.
Doty said even though the team keeps losing, Dirks has been an enormous positive.
“He’s been a bright spot for us,” Doty said. “His big rebounding efforts have shown us a lot of good things, mainly that he can play when it matters most.”
Along with Dirks, freshman Forrest Paxton has surged in his opportunity in Batiuk and Logan’s absence. In his most recent game vs. George Fox, Paxton had his best game since entering the starting lineup Jan. 26. He finished with 10 points and nine rebounds.
“It’s a little bit of a learning curve for him,” Doty said. “And even a guy like Brandon (Harris), who has to build trust with Paxton. He has to be able to trust that Forrest can knock down a shot if (Harris) gets it to him inside.”
The Wildcats will have another learning curve at 8 p.m. today when they host Pacific.
Linfield’s last win vs. Pacific was a 72-66 win in Jan. 2011. The Boxers have the sixth-leading scorer in the Northwest Conference with Colin Webster who is averaging 15 points per game. Pacific’s Dustin Bowser has the fourth best field goal percentage in the conference at 58 percent.
The Boxers’ other leader Danny Brakebush is solid from 3-point range at 44 percent — second best in the Northwest Conference. Brakebush led all scorers in the last meeting between the two schools Jan. 12 with 17 points, and going 5-of-6 from 3-point range.
“They’re a ball control team,” said Doty of Pacific’s offensive style. “They take a lot of time off the shot clock with their half-court offense. (Brakebush) hurt us last time Whitman limited his scoring last time out, and we have to take a look at how they did that.”