PARKLAND - The mark of a good team is its ability to win the close games, and on Saturday night Pacific Lutheran showed once again that it is indeed a good team with an exciting 71-68 Northwest Conference men's basketball win over the Linfield Wildcats in Olson Auditorium.
It wasn't until Kyle MacTaggart swatted aside an inbounds pass with 1.1 seconds on the clock, preventing Linfield from a chance at a game-tying shot, that the host Lutes had wrapped up their 15th win of the regular season, the most by a PLU men's basketball team since the 1996-97 squad finished 15-10 overall.
The Lutes have a chance to add to that win total next Thursday when they play conference regular season champion and once-beaten Whitworth in Spokane in the first round of the NWC postseason tournament. But that story is for another day.
Tonight, both the Lutes and the Wildcats started out slow until things really heated up in the final 20 minutes.
The first half ended with Linfield holding a 28-23 lead, the low scoring totals a result of less-than-stellar shooting by both teams, excepting the efforts of Linfield's Zach Anderson and Sergio Rosario. Anderson scored 13 of his 16 points in the opening half, while Rosario came off the bench to net nine points on the way to a 21-point game.
Both teams heated up in the second half, Linfield shooting 54 percent and the Lutes a notch better at 59 percent. It made for high drama in the final 20 minutes.
The 'Cats opened up their biggest lead of the game at eight points, 31-23, on a Ryan Lobdell free throw just 38 seconds into the second half. Pacific Lutheran eventually took a 43-41 lead on MacTaggart's layup with 13:38 left.
Linfield led only one more time after that, going up 45-43 on Rosario's jumper one minute later. PLU regained the lead, though Linfield kept its deficit within reach of a three-point basket, and when Rosario hit a long three with three seconds left the 'Cats were within two at 70-68.
James Conti hit the second of two free throws with 1.1 seconds left to put the Lutes on top, 71-68, and MacTaggart made sure that the visitors didn't get another chance when he blocked David Lee's inbounds throw.
Conference leading scorer K.C. Wiser, limited to just four points in the opening half, finished the game with 23 points to pace both teams, and Rosario and Anderson both contributed to Linfield's scoring effort. The 'Cats shot 44 percent from the field and out-rebounded the Lutes, 37-32, with Wiser grabbing 12 to lead both teams.
MacTaggart, one of four seniors honored prior to the game, led his team with 21 points, while Conti finished with 15. Bull and Curtis Trondsen, also seniors, had eight points, while the fourth senior, Tony Polis, had two points, two assists and two steals.
PLU shot 47 percent overall and turned the ball over just 10 times.