Women drop another game but show signs of hope

The Portland State women’s basketball team suffered another setback Tuesday night against San Jose, 69-60, lowering their record to 2-8. The Vikings looked flat from the start and were lucky enough to get a JJ Magee jumper with nine seconds left to close the gap to 40-27 at halftime.

"We were getting outworked," Coach Charity Elliott said of the first half. She had been critical of her players’ effort this week in practice and in the early moments of the game and used the embarrassing halftime score to motivate the team.

Whatever Elliott said in the locker room worked, because the Viks were a different team for the first six minutes of the second half. Starting a five guard set, Portland State pushed the tempo and ratcheted the defensive pressure up, forcing San Jose to play a running game. Amber Jackson, the Spartans talented 6-2 frosh center, was ineffective during this stretch, in a large part due to 5-9 guard Heidi Stuart’s spirited defense against the big Spartan. Jackson eventually rumbled her way to 26 points and 7 boards but committed 6 turnovers thanks to the swarming Viking guards.

With San Jose leading 44-39 and momentum turning in Portland State’s favor, the young Vikings started to crumble. "We just couldn’t get over the hump," Elliott said of the pivotal moment. The Vikings battled hard, putting four players in double figure scoring, but the points weren’t enough and the talented Spartans secured their eighth win.

After the loss, Elliott was disappointed but still optimistic, mostly because of the improved play of the guard corps. Senior guard JJ Magee scored 14 points on 6 of 11 shooting, while also pulling down 6 rebounds. Junior point Sharon Wahinekapu had a notable game as well, going 5 of 7 from the floor on her way to 14 points and 3 assists.

On an off shooting night, sophomore guard/forward Heather Arns struggled her way to 12 points and a team high 8 boards to go along with 6 steals, tying her career high. Elliott was pleased that her young star still did "all the little things, like play D and rebound," despite her shooting woes.

As the Vikings look forward on their schedule, they will notice that only a single road game against BYU separates them from Big Sky conference play. To date, most games the Vikings have simply stayed competitive in games. That will not be enough against a conference full of teams that were each picked to finish ahead of PSU.

The team has yet to show the killer instinct and the willingness to believe that they can win close games, even though they have already won two such contests. Turnovers still plague the team, a sad irony since on any given night they may start four guards. The battle inside is also being lost thanks to those small guard sets. The Vikings are being out rebounded by an average of nine boards a game.

To help add depth to the front line, Elliott relies on her two new volleyball signees, Marla Morin and Lisa Thomas. Morin and Thomas are tall, athletic players, though they are both a little rusty after joining the team just weeks ago. However, they are quickly shaking that rust off. Thomas recently collected a team high nine rebounds in a road game against Santa Clara, and Morin continues to bring energetic defense and hustle.

Despite what outsiders may think, this is a season far from the brink. Elliott is still impressed every day in practice with the improvement her players are showing, and she is thankful that they are buying into her motion offense, team first system. "I think once conference play starts, we’re really going to surprise some people," she said. It’s up to her players to prove her right.