The calendar turns from 2014 to 2015 and both Portland State basketball teams make their New Year’s resolutions. The men resolve to enter the Big Sky Tournament with a high seed, while the women resolve to up their game into tournament-level play.
The men’s team, off to a hot start, are resolved to continue the play that is rising them through the ranks. The women’s squad, which has struggled with injuries and offensive slumps, wish to forget the way they played in 2014 and bring home more victories in 2015. After the holiday break, both men’s and women’s basketball have been back in action with the all-important Big Sky Conference games beginning. They’ll attempt to do what so many of us fail at: living up to our resolutions.
Mens basketball will continue to dominate the court
The Men’s team, who tied for the second-best start in school history with four straight wins, have dominated their home court but will need to get wins on the road against conference opponents.
Like most collegiate basketball teams, the teams in the Big Sky Conference are ruled by guard play. The perimeter players have the ball in hand most of the time, and offense is initiated through the dribble, drive and dish. PSU has an ideal roster to compete in this environment. They usually start three guards, all contributors, and off the bench can insert Dashaun Wiggins. As a reserve, Wiggins is leading his team in scoring for the second straight season and is the reigning Big Sky Sixth Man of the Year.
Any of PSU’s guards might bring up the ball on a given play. They like to mix it up, especially in transition. Nominally the starting point guard is senior Tim Douglas, but during game time it’s just as likely for Wiggins or sophomores Gary Winston and Bryce White to trigger the offense. All of them, especially the big-bodied White, have the quickness to get around defenders. Though they don’t rely solely on dribble penetration, all four guards can shoot the three ball. Wiggins and Douglas lead the way percentage-wise with .463 and .439, respectively.
If there is any area these talented guards could improve in it would be assists. As a team, the Vikings average almost 12 assists per game, Winston leading the team with just over three dimes a game. They assist on nearly half their made field goals, but with such effective scorers and passers handling the ball it does seem that percentage should be higher. Some plays they are whipping the rock around the horn, trying to find the open shooter.
At others, a player becomes determined to score and will lower their head as they ignore teammates and force up a shot. Guards who are determined to score themselves, forgetting the team offense, are one of the few downsides to having multiple wing players who can create their own play.
Often unheralded are the big men of PSU basketball. Both Braxton Tucker and Tiege Bamba have been starting with each averaging over ten points and five rebounds. Head coach Tyler Geving points to the former as a key contributor to his team’s success.
“Tucker has done a great job,” Geving said. “I call him the Junkyard Dog. When he brings it, is rebounding, doing the little things, he makes us a better team.”
The 6’6″ sophmore is surprisingly agile and quick for a post player. While not much of a back-to-the-basket player, Tucker operates best when picking and rolling toward the hoop. He has soft enough hands to finish around the basket.
Geving, who despite his team’s success is always considering how they can improve, believes that if his big men can increase their rebounding output, it may be the difference between wins and losses in conference play going forward.
“As coaches, we tend to focus on the negative. I think we need to get better at rebounding. It’s something we talk about all the time. We have good shooters, good scorers, guys who have done it in the past, but it just hasn’t clicked all at once,” Geving said.
The Vikings entered conference play with the second-best record in the Big Sky at 6-4. Only the Eastern Washington Eagles, PSU’s rival in the Dam Cup series, had a better mark at 9-4. The first matchup will be at the home game on Jan. 15. For Geving, his team’s positive attitude and interpersonal bond are the most promising attributes as they enter a meaningful stretch of games.
“On the positive, I think it’s a group that likes each other,” Geving said. “They’re relatively easy to coach, there’s not a lot of drama. Outside the X’s and O’s, that’s a huge part of sports, just getting along with each other and team chemistry.”
Women’s basketball resolve to rise
The women’s basketball team has a further road to travel if they’re to reach the Big Sky Tournament. They have managed two wins in their first twelve games. In the Big Sky Conference they are last in overall offense, rebounding, assisting, steals, and turnover margin.
While the women’s team have established veterans, their three leading scorers are upperclassmen who have seen serious playing time in previous seasons. An influx of transfers and freshmen, however, has led to a team that has been learning one another’s strengths and weaknesses throughout the season.
On paper they look good, with a balanced roster of guards and post players. Their guards are led by junior Emily Esom and team captain and senior Lauriel Powell. Both players can dribble, defend and shoot. In the post is senior Mikaela Rivard and junior transfer Alicia Carline. Rivard scored a career-high 24 points in a Jan. 1 loss to Southern Utah. Carline, a 6’3″ native of New Zealand, has been the most exciting addition to the women’s team. Averaging eight points and almost seven rebounds, the PSU center fills up the lane on defense and shows real post moves on offense.
Their offense seems to operate best when Carline touches the ball. She has the size to receive the ball over most players trying to guard her. When PSU runs a pick-and-roll with her and Powell, Carline usually gets a high percentage shot. Far too often, though, the guards will spend the entire shot clock swinging the ball ineffectively from one wing to another. Perhaps Carline is still adjusting to the level of play in the Big Sky—she had previously played for Gillete College, a two-year community college in Wyoming. The New Year’s resolution to win in the 2014–15 season may very well rest on this one New Zealander’s shoulders.
January will be a busy month for both PSU basketball teams. They each have 10 games to play, and from now until early March every game is against a conference opponent. The good thing about conference play is it is much like a New Year’s resolution. The slate is wiped clean and all that matters is what one does going forward; PSU basketball will be looking for wins in this new year.