Portland State wows Montana schools

For the first time ever, the Portland State women’s basketball team swept Montana and Montana State away from the Park Blocks.

For the first time ever, the Portland State women’s basketball team swept Montana and Montana State away from the Park Blocks. The Viks beat Montana on Thursday 70-65, and then Montana State on Saturday 81-77. The wins pushed the Viks into a tie for second place with Montana State, just a game behind first-place Northern Colorado.

On Thursday night, the Viks (17-10, 10-4 BSC) managed to gain a substantial lead multiple times, but Montana responded to all of the Viking surges to end the game with just a five-point difference. PSU was up by as much as 17 in the first half, but went into the locker room barely in the lead 38-30.

Montana (14-13 9-5 BSC) opened the second half on a four-point run, but PSU answered the Griz with a 10-point run, including two treys—one by senior forward Kelli Valentine and the other by junior guard Stephanie Egwuatu. Although the Viks pushed the lead to 20 at one point, the Lady Griz recovered to make it a four-point game with under a minute to go. Still, the Viks made their free throws down the stretch to hold on to the 70-65 win.

Head coach Sherri Murrell said that playing at the Montanas is a hard weekend and winning just one game is an achievement, but both is huge. The Viks did just that. Both the Montana Lady Griz and the Montana State Bobcats are known for their high-intensity fan bases, but senior guard Lexi Bishop said that the team used this to their advantage.

“It’s funny…I think we play better in bigger environments and bigger crowds—it almost helps to get us fired up. We want to show them and prove to them that we can beat them,” Bishop said.

Although the Viks may have enjoyed the environment, PSU finished the first half against Montana State (16-12,10-4 BSC) down by 10, 46-36. At halftime, Murrell said she told the players they needed to change some offense around, but more importantly, bring heart into the game if they wanted to gain a second consecutive road win.

“I just asked for them to show heart. I told them they have to dig in and I said if you really truly want this, you have to play 20 minutes with heart and they showed that they wanted it,” Murrell said.

The Viks played to win in the second half and kept the Bobcats scoreless for a little over nine minutes. At 12:18, a shot by sophomore guard Courtney VanBrocklin gave the Viks their first lead at 51-50. The Bobcats controlled the score one last time, but a pair of free throws by sophomore guard Karley Lampman with under 10 minutes to go gave the Viks the lead again for good.

Bishop said that the importance of winning this game was making the team come together.

“I think just knowing every game is like a championship,” Bishop said. “We have no chance of hosting unless we win out the rest of our games. We knew we had to dig deep in ourselves and keep playing strong.”

The weekend was all about the performance of Bishop, a player usually known for her defense. The senior posted a career-high four three-pointers on Thursday and then came back on Saturday and re-broke her record with five. Bishop combined for 32 points over the weekend.

“She’s always been known for her defense every single year, but when she played this weekend she really stepped up on offense and took the open shots,” Murrell said. “It really showed—Lexi is a senior and she wants to win this championship. She did what she had to do to help her team.”

Besides Bishop, several bench players stepped up over the weekend. On Saturday, Lampman and freshman forward Allie Brock made some key stops and shots. Brock ended Saturday in double-figures with 10 points. Also, Egwuatu had seven rebounds and a block. Murrell said it is crucial to see strong reserve players because that depth is necessary to compete against competitive teams.

The starters all posted high numbers over the weekend as well. Valentine, VanBrocklin and junior guard Eryn Jones all scored in double-figures for both games. Jones led the Viks with 20 on Thursday, and combined for 35 over the weekend.

PSU hosts the Montana schools next week, and the Viks will again need their depth, fast offense and ability to come from behind. With just two games left until the end of the regular season, PSU is pushing toward the possibility of a Big Sky regular season victory and the honor of hosting the tournament at home. However, the Viks will need to win the rest of their games to have a shot.

Tipoff for the game against Montana is on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Peter W. Stott center. ?