Uncertain road ahead

Amidst a surprisingly successful 18-win season, Portland State continues to keep its fans scratching their heads following a weekend of inconsistent play.

Amidst a surprisingly successful 18-win season, Portland State continues to keep its fans scratching their heads following a weekend of inconsistent play.

After demolishing an Idaho State team that represented the Big Sky Conference in last year’s NCAA tournament Thursday night, the Vikings (18-7, 8-4 BSC) were upset on Saturday, losing in overtime to Weber State (11-12, 5-6 BSC) 76-71.

The inconsistent play of the weekend epitomized the Vikings’ struggles away from the Stott Center this season, as their conference road record dropped to 3-4 with the loss to the Wildcats.

But despite splitting their weekend matchups, Portland State remains in the conference championship picture, sitting just two games back of leader Montana with four games left on the schedule.

“It is very possible that the conference champion will have four or five losses at the end of the season,” said head coach Sherri Murrell.

Currently the Vikings’ home record sits at 9-0, with three critical upcoming games against the Montana schools and Northern Colorado. Portland State’s demise has been its inability to consistently rack up victories away from the South Park Blocks this season.

After sweeping bottom dwellers Northern Arizona and Sacramento State away from the Stott Center in early January, the Vikings have struggled against the Big Sky’s elite on the road.

Much of the blame for Portland State’s inability to rattle off road victories can be placed on the Vikings’ poor field-goal shooting performance.

In their five home victories against Big Sky competition, the Vikings are hitting nearly 50 percent of their shots. On the road, conversely, the Vikings have shot just 35 percent from the field in their four losses versus conference foes.

“This is a very difficult travel conference,” Murrell said. “You go into road trips hoping to win one of two games, and sometimes you feel lucky getting that.”

Murrell may seem content with the weekend split, but she said her concerns about her squads’ inexperience and mental toughness persist.

“We have struggled to play well in back-to-back games all season,” Murrell said. “Part of it is the physical aspect, but much of it is being mentally tough enough to work through road struggles.”

When the Vikings left on their most recent road trip, few imagined that this would be the split they obtained based on Portland State’s competition.

For the second time this season, the Vikings torched Idaho State, the second best team in the conference, and easily won 81-63. The win tied Portland State’s mark for victories the most victories in a season since joining the Big Sky Conference in 1996-97.

The victory was highlighted by the play of sophomore point guard Claire Faucher. Faucher, still the nation’s assist leader, cushioned her advantage with a 19-assist performance. This set a new school and Big Sky record, and is the most assists distributed by any Division I player this season. Faucher’s 19 assists and, an equally remarkable statistic, just three turnovers fueled the Vikings.

“Unbelievable,” Murrell said. “When her teammates are making shots, she can dish it out, and it makes for a lethal combination.”

After earning their most impressive road victory this season, the Vikings responded with a lackluster performance two days later, allowing a Weber State team that they had controlled earlier this season to squeak by with an overtime victory.

The Wildcats’ four players in double figures led to one of their most well-balanced offensive performances of the season. The generally limited Weber State offense had been averaging just under 60 points per contest but was able to put up 76 points Saturday.

Portland State junior forward Kelsey Kahle was held to eight points, half of her season average, and Faucher struggled from the field, hitting 5 of 16 shots. In spite of the loss, freshman post Kelli Valentine had the best game of her young Viking career. Valentine finished with 20 points on 9 of 12 shootings, leading all scorers.

The improbable split leaves the Vikings with work to do in their three conference games, before the season finale, a home contest against conference leader Montana. Should the Vikings win their remaining four games, they would have a chance to host the Big Sky Tournament, an advantage for a team that has looked like a mere version of itself on the road.

Home cooking and road whipping

Home Road

Record 11-0 6-7

Conf. record 5-0 3-4

Points per game 75.4 68.4

Conference games PPG 79 7 2.5

Field-goal percentage 45.5% 46%

Conference F.G. Percentage 49.7 40.1 percent