Pilots ready for strong finish in WCC race

By The Beacon | February 13, 2013 9:00pm

In the thick of the WCC race for the top seed, the Pilots have chance to pick up ground against San Francisco and Saint Mary’s

Junior Amy Pupa puts in work at the post, taking advantage of loose rebounds to open up other scoring opportunities for herself and her team. (Jackie Jeffers | The Beacon)

By Katie Dunn, Staff Writer dunn16@up.edu

Finishing in the top four in the WCC is the main goal for the women's basketball team. To do this they will have to focus on their strengths: rebounding, shooting and fighting for the ball. They will also need to win most of their remaining games, especially their home games against San Francisco, Saint Mary's and BYU.

The Pilots have succeeded this season at home, which has helped them be 10-14 overall and 5-6 in the WCC. They are in sixth place in the WCC and look to improve to fourth by March.

We say 'Top Four' instead of 'Pilots' at the end of practice," sophomore guard Jasmine Wooton said.

They look to take their skills into their last five conference games and the WCC Championship Tournament next month.

"We want to make the NCAA tournament," sophomore guard Kari Luttinen said. "We need to go far in the WCC tournament and make the national tournament."

The San Francisco Dons and Saint Mary's Gaels come to Portland in their second match-ups this season. San Francisco is 9-15 this season and has won only two conference games. The first time the Pilots took on the Dons, they lost in an upset where the Dons scored 30 out of 43 free throws. The Pilots will need to play consistently against San Francisco, who shoots well, making .442 percent of their shots. However, they have only won close games against Portland and BYU and has troubles on the road, with only two wins.

There are four things the Pilots has been focusing on this season in order to go far in the WCC.

"Playing great defense, try to improve on turnovers, try to take good shots and the last is to make the hustle plays," Head Coach Jim Sollars said.

The chemisty is a key piece to Pilots' success. Luttinen is leading the team in points, averaging 12.5 per game. The Pilots have made .447 percent of their shots this year. Wooton has assisted Luttinen more than anyone else, leading the team with 3.1 assists per game.

Welcoming five freshmen to an already young team has been easy for the Pilots. Freshmen Ellen Nurmi, who has started 16 of the 24 games this season, and Annika Holopainen, who scores 9.9 points per game, are contribute to the team's wins.

They are two of seven players Smith uses the most and looks to as leaders.

"All of the seven starters have to play their best basketball this last month of the season," Sollars said.

The Pilots have to overcome a powerhouse team when St. Mary's come on Saturday. The Gaels make .478 percent of their shots and is first in the WCC in rebounding. They are in second place in the WCC behind Gonzaga and are 16-6 overall this season and 8-2 in the WCC.

"These are statement games," sophomore forward Cassandra Thompson said. "If we beat the number two team, then people will know we're ready."

The Pilots take on San Francisco on Thursday, Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. They face Saint Mary's on Saturday Feb. 16 at 7 p.m both games are at home.

Sophomore Jasmine Wooton dribbles around a Gonzaga defender to create points. (Jackie Jeffers | The Beacon)

(Jackie Jeffers | The Beacon)