Reloaded Vikings ready for tip-off

After 31 days of grueling practice, the Portland State men’s basketball team hosted the visiting Linfield Wildcats on Nov. 9 at the Stott Center, where they were easily able to dismantle the Wildcats and finish the night with an 88–43 victory.

Through the first eight minutes of the game, PSU couldn’t get anything to fall and trailed the Wildcats until the Vikings’ offense clicked and went on a 24–2 run midway through the first half. The Vikings entered the locker room with a comfortable lead of 46–18. PSU shot .532 from the field, while their defensive efforts held Linfield to just .267. The Vikings’ defense was able to force 24 turnovers, which resulted in 33 of the team’s 88 points. Sophomore transfer Braxton Tucker led the Vikings with 16 points, going 8–10 from the field, along with five rebounds in 23 minutes of play. Of the 14 PSU players who saw action, 11 scored, including five in double figures.

Senior guard and former Big Sky sixth man of the year DaShaun Wiggins came off the bench adding 11 points, three assists and four steals in 19 minutes. “It doesn’t matter to me, starting or playing the bench, but as long as I play well and help my team and finish with a win, it doesn’t matter at all. It matters who finishes the game and who’s playing well,” said Wiggins, when asked if his junior year honors would earn him a spot in the starting lineup. He added, “My goals for the season are to make it to the NCAA tournament. That’s what I want to do, that’s the big stage. I just want to be happy and have fun and enjoy playing the game like I did last year.” Head coach Tyler Geving and his staff are expecting big things from last year’s leading scorer, who began the season with a solid performance, filling most categories on the stat sheet in front of his home crowd.

The 2014–15 Vikings have six returning letter winners, including last season’s top three point-getters in senior guards Gary Winston, who finished second-team All-Big Sky, putting up 11.3 points per game while shooting an impressive 42 percent from behind the arc; Wiggins, who averaged 12.9 ppg; and Tim Douglas, who added 11.8 ppg, and 3.2 assists per game.

The 2013–14 season moved the Viks in the right direction, as they improved to a record of 17–15 (11–9 in conference) to tie for fifth place. The Vikings reached the Big Sky Tournament semifinals before getting knocked out by North Dakota.

PSU added a few key pieces in pursuit of another NCAA tournament berth. Among the summer signings the Vikings were able to pick up 6-foot 8-inch junior college transfer Collin Spickerman, who was NWAACC West Division MVP last year at Clark College, where he put up eye-opening numbers of 17.9 ppg, 9.1 rebounds per game and 2.9 blocks per game. Spickerman suffered a high ankle sprain in a recent practice, which kept him out of the rotation for the game against the Wildcats.

PSU also added some more offense in the backcourt with the addition of 6-foot 5-inch guard Bryce White, who was last year’s NWAACC South Division MVP at Chemeketa Community College, averaging 27.5 ppg and 7.2 rpg. White was a starter for the exhibition opener and is expected to stay in the starting lineup when conference play begins on Jan. 1 with a home game against Southern Utah. Assistant coach Jase Coburn anticipates White making plays when he has the ball in his hands.

To go alongside Spickerman, the Vikings added some more power in their frontcourt with the addition of Dorian Cason, a 6-foot 7-inch junior who spent last year at the College of Southern Idaho, where he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game. “My knee is a whole lot better than it was in the summer. I’m basically back to 100 percent, as far as my health goes. As far as my plan goes and getting back to my old self, I feel about 40 or 50 percent, so I am halfway there. I’m hoping by conference play I will be back to old Dorian and doing the things I know how to do and the things that I know I’m good at, and definitely by the end of the season I know I’ll be back to my old self, and definitely help this team try and win a Big Sky Tournament Championship. From there, a conference bid and a bid into the NCAA tournament, so we can make some noise.” Cason said.

In recent coaches and media polls, defending conference champion Weber State was selected to once again take home the Big Sky title. Eastern Washington was second in the coaches poll, with Northern Arizona third and Sacramento State fourth in both polls. The Vikings found themselves in the fifth spot on the coaches poll and a surprisingly low seventh-place seeding from the media poll. “I don’t get into the media thing. The rankings don’t mean anything to me at all. Basically, I don’t worry about us being picked fifth and seventh. It’s all about us playing hard everyday and playing as a team, and then we’ll see what happens in March. We’ll get better during the year, and when March comes, then we’ll see,” Wiggins said.

Coach Coburn said that the team needed to continue to get guys used to playing with each other. “We just need to continue to defend and good things will happen with this group, and offensively, we just need to continue to gel. Our defense is something we need to capitalize on and [Tiegbe Bamba] is always really good on the boards for us and he has really helped us a lot defensively, and he has made a big impact on our team.”

Along with some roster shake-ups for PSU, the Big Sky expanded to 12 schools this season with the return of the University of Idaho. The conference schedule now consists of 18 games, and as a result, PSU will not travel to Montana or Montana State this season, while Weber State and Idaho State will not make the trip to Portland to face the Vikings.

A lot of anticipation surrounds this newly loaded roster, and PSU plays games that count starting next week when the Vikings travel to Los Angeles to face University of Southern California for the first time in 37 years. The game is Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m. and the action will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.