Scratching and clawing

It is a familiar feeling of disappointment for this young Viking basketball team. After suffering two more losses to Weber State and Idaho State over the weekend to lower their record to 2-13 (0-3 Big Sky), there is little more to say. "We’re in a bad habit of giving up the early lead right now," head coach Charity Elliott said.

Her assessment is dead on. Against Weber State in last Thursday’s 68-89 loss, the Viks let the Wildcats leap out to a 10-0 lead before a Heather Arns jumper put Portland State on the board. In the end, despite keeping it a 10-15 point game most of the way, the Vikings succumbed to Weber State’s three-point barrage.

The Wildcats poured on 10 three pointers at a 42 percent clip to finally put the game out of reach for the struggling Portland State defense, which has given up 70 points or more in all but one of their current six-game losing skid. In their last two games, the Vikings have surrendered over 80 points a game.

Despite the loss, the Vikings had an outburst of scoring, led by Heather Arns’ 17 points, who finally broke out of her scoring slump. Heidi Stuart, JJ Magee and Ashley Brown (who is filling in nicely for an injured Sharon Wahinekapu), each had 10 points. Freshman Delaney Conway led the defense with three steals and a blocked shot to go with her eight points. In three conference games, the Vikings are averaging 75 points, up from 53 points a game during nonconference play.

The offensive breakthrough would prove to help keep the game close in the Vikings’ Saturday matchup against Idaho State. PSU suffered another bad start to let the Bengals jump out to a 3-11 lead and lead 33-45 at the half. After a lackadaisical effort in the first half, Portland State was a different team in the second 20 minutes. Led by Heather Arns’ 16 second-half points, the Viks, according to Elliott, "fought and clawed our way back in the game."

All that clawing almost paid off for the Vikings. With a minute left in the game sophomore point guard Ashley Brown, in her second strong game after a foot injury sidelined her for more than a month, drove the lane and flipped in a pretty finger roll while being fouled. She converted the free throw to bring Portland State within two points at 74-76. Brown finished with 10 points and a team high six assists.

However, the more experienced Bengals scored off a broken play on their next possession and calmly hit their free throws down the stretch for a final tally of 74-82 as the modest crowd on hand hooted and prayed for a miss. The loss was hard to swallow, but Coach Elliott saw some positive signs. "We competed," she said. "Heather played fantastic, especially on defense."

Arns turned in another fine performance, finishing with a team-high 25 points and six boards. She is averaging 15.7 points in three Big Sky Conference games. Volleyballer Marla Morin also impressed her coach. "Marla came in and gave a good effort. She had a good game," Elliot said. Morin had nine points and her two steals contributed to the frenetic defense that helped the Vikings close late. Delaney Conway had a strong defensive game as well, snagging four steals to go with her nine points.

If the Vikings continue to compete as they did Saturday night, they will win some games in the Big Sky Conference. For the time being, the team isn’t focusing on anything else but improving. "We’ve had some people step up recently," Elliot said. "We have to do what we do and not worry about anything else."