Portland State women’s basketball team is firing on all cylinders. They fly to boards snatching up rebounds, they sneak shots around defenders, they do the unexpected, and most importantly they win.
Portland got its first wins of the season against the Nevada Wolf Pack and intra-city rival University of Portland Pilots. Friday night at the Stott Center the Vikings rallied for a win over the Wolf Pack in their season opener.
After an exciting first half where Portland led by as many as eight, the Pack came back strong and went into half time with a score of 26-25 in favor of the Vikings. In a sloppy, turnover-ridden game it was the Vikings who would pull ahead late for the win.
Freshman Kelsey Kahle kept Portland State in the game by coming off the bench and scoring all 13 of her points in the second half. Brianna Thompson led all Vikings in scoring with 16 points, also snagging seven rebounds and one block. After powering her way in for a score with a defender all over her, Thompson flashed a satisfied smile.
“That girl was on me all game and it felt great getting a shot right in her face,” Thompson said.
The turning point in the game came with less than 10 minutes left in the second half. Nevada’s leading scorer Brandi Fitzgerald was on a one-on-one fast break against senior point guard Sharon Wahinekapu. With momentum slipping in Nevada’s favor and the Wolf Pack leading 49-46, Fitzgerald made her move to the basket and Wahinekapu slapped the ball away to return possession to PSU.
From there Wahinekapu scored on a jumper and on the next play, after a Heather Arn’s steal, fed Delaney Conway for another bucket to make the score 50-49. It was back-and-forth scoring all the way to the end of the game. But the momentum shift sent the Wolves packing with a final score of 65-61.
The women’s basketball team at Portland State hasn’t had an overall wining season since 1998-1999. The Vikings went 3-23 in 2004-05, a year where they lacked firepower and the ability to execute.
This year is completely different. Under second-year head coach Charity Elliott the Vikings sit alone atop the Big Sky Conference with two wins (three counting the exhibition game against MSU-Northern). As expected from a second-year coach, this year is one of rebuilding. However, the talent on this team is having an immediate impact.
“[Last year] we didn’t have all the firepower we do this year,” Elliott said after the win against Nevada on Friday. “Our young kids really stepped up. We have a group that understands what we are trying to do.”
The leadership of the veteran players has worked flawlessly in giving the less experienced players opportunities at success. In Friday’s game, senior guard Sharon Wahinekapu came in ready to lead her team. When presented with full-court pressure from the skilled defensive guards of Nevada, Wahinekapu dusted the opposition.
The typically soft-spoken, lone Viking senior confidently helped her team to a victory.
“I feel a lot more comfortable. I feel confident in running the offense. When I’m on the court my personality changes, I just start talking, calling screens and being vocal,” she said.
Junior guard/forward Heather Arns prefers not being the only weapon on the court.
“We have a full team of players that can make shots this year, so I don’t have to be the one that has to take all the shots. I’d much rather make a good assist then force a shot,” Arns said. She finished with eight points, five assists and two steals.
After the game Elliott was ecstatic about the victory and very proud of her starters from last year.
“I want to talk about three players. Sharon’s leadership really showed when she ran the offense, especially in the second half. Heather’s understanding that she can make plays without having to always take the shot,” Elliott said. “And Delaney stepping up and getting nine rebounds off the bench. Those are three players who grinded it out last year and really stepped up and showed their experience.”
On Sunday, the women also beat intra-city rival University of Portland by a score of 66-56. Two Vikings had double-doubles. Thompson led the team with an impressive 20 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and four steals. Arns had 12 points and 10 boards. Wahinekapu also was in double figures, scoring eight of her 10 points in the last four minutes of the game to put away the Pilots.