The last time the vikings played Northern Colorado was Jan. 30 and they shot the Bears out of the building, ultimately winning the game by a margin of 23 points.
That was the pinnacle of a midseason winning stretch, when the Vikings had won six of their last seven and had leaped to a three-way tie for fourth place in the conference. Since then, however, they are a struggling 4–5, and fighting for a seed in the Big Sky tournament.
As of now they sit at 9–9 in conference play—tied with Eastern Washington and Sacramento State for the final tournament bid—and 14–13 overall.
When the Vikings met the Bears for the second time Saturday in Greeley, Colo., they were fresh off a 73–83 loss to North Dakota and their opportunities to solidify themselves in the standings were quickly dwindling.
Halfway through the first half, the Vikings trailed 23–9.
Flash forward to the end of the game: PSU went on a 13–0 run, then an 18–3 run, Gary Winston finished with 22 points and a career-high seven assists, and the Vikings won 77–68, their tournament hopes still alive and well.
This puts them in a good, albeit a little shaky, position coming into the final two games of the season against Weber State and Idaho State.
Weber State currently boasts a conference-leading record of 13–5 in conference play and 16–10 overall. They have a Big Sky Player of the Year candidate in Davion Berry, who is averaging 19 points and 4.5 rebounds a game this season, as well as arguably the best frontcourt in the Big Sky with Joel Bolomboy and Kyle Tresnak.
Idaho State, on the other hand, find themselves on the outside looking in at the Big Sky tournament. They would have to win both of their remaining games while PSU, Eastern Washington and Sacramento State lose both of theirs.
The Vikings, then, control their fate—if they win the next two games they are guaranteed a seed in the Big Sky tournament due to the fact that they own the tiebreaker over both Eastern Washington and Sacramento State. And coincidentally, Eastern Washington is playing the exact same opponents as PSU.
This is good news. If PSU can manage a split, the chances are high that Eastern Washington will fall to Weber State. Sacramento State, meanwhile, plays two tough opponents in Montana and Montana State (who is a mere one game ahead of PSU).
With a cautious optimism one can project that the Vikings will split their final two games and claim either the sixth or seventh seed in the tournament. If that is indeed how it shakes out, the Vikings will be playing either North Dakota or Montana in the first round.
PSU has proven to be a team that runs both hot and cold this year. But inconsistent teams, as it’s been shown year in and year out, sometimes have a way of getting hot at just the right moments—especially a team built as PSU is, with an oddball four guard lineup that generates a lot of open threes and constantly pushes the tempo. And considering that PSU has beaten both North Dakota and Montana already this year, one may feel free to indulge in an optimism less cautious.
The final two games of the year will be at the Stott Center, this Thursday and Saturday, and the Big Sky tournament begins March 13.