Women win conference title, play in NCAA Tourney

SEATTLE—”This is every girl who plays basketball’s dream,” junior forward Kelli Valentine said at the Bank of America Arena, following her team’s game against Texas A&M in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

SEATTLE—”This is every girl who plays basketball’s dream,” junior forward Kelli Valentine said at the Bank of America Arena, following her team’s game against Texas A&M in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. “It’s great to actually be here after all the hard work you put in through the season, summer, and everything.”

Valentine and the rest of the women’s basketball team had their dream come true on March 20, just a week after winning the conference title, when the Vikings got a chance to be among the top 64 teams in the country and participate in “March Madness.”

The Vikings entered the NCAA Tournament much like they had entered the conference tournament—as underdogs. Portland State earned a No. 15 seeding, which pitted them against No. 2 seed Texas A&M in the Sacramento Region, but the Vikings’ dream came to an end when the Aggies defeated the Vikings 84–53.

Despite the final score, Portland State showed they could play with the top teams in the country. After the Aggies began the game with eight unanswered points, the Vikings returned fire with back-to-back three pointers from junior guard Lexi Bishop and senior guard Claire Faucher to make it a game at 8–6.

From there the teams went head-to-head in the half. The score tied at 14-all and again at 16-all before Texas A&M increased its lead to six points at ten minutes in. A Portland State run capped with a jumper by sophomore guard Eryn Jones gave the Vikings a 28–27 lead and got the Portland State fans out of their seats with four minutes remaining in the half.

But the excitement in the arena came to an abrupt halt when Faucher, First Team All-Big Sky selection for the third straight year and Portland State’s career leader in assists, came crashing to the floor after making a defensive play for the ball. She hit her head when she fell and dropped to the playing surface.

After several minutes of near silence, and an assessment from the team trainer, Faucher walked off the court to applause. She sat the rest of the half, but returned to play after halftime.

Faucher’s fall to the floor seemed to serve as the turning point of the game, and after the teams entered the locker rooms with the score at 39–31 in favor of TAMU, the Aggies showed why they were the ninth-ranked team in the nation after the break.

Led by junior forward/center Danielle Adams, Texas A&M came out of the gate in the second half with a barrage of shots. The Aggies went on a 13–0 run to take a 57–37 lead, and from there things never got much better for the Vikings. With just over 11 minutes of play remaining, the Aggies went on another run, this time with 19 unanswered points.

In the end, the Aggies walked off the court with a solid victory, but the Vikings ran with them for the first 20 minutes.

“We gave them everything we had and unfortunately, it was just in one half,” said head coach Sherri Murrell in a post-game press conference.

Adams was the stand-alone star of the night. She came off the bench and, in just 23 minutes of play, led all scorers with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting and 7-of-10 at the free-throw line. She also topped off her seventh 20-point game of the season with six rebounds, three assists and three steals.

Also posing trouble for Portland State was Aggies’ senior guard Tanisha Smith, who fell one assist short of earning a triple double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

The Vikings high points came from the backcourt. Senior guard Claire Faucher and sophomore guard Eryn Jones chalked 15 points each.

Following the game, Murrell summed up the mismatch that her team faced.

“Even their mascot was taller than ours,” she said.

Murrell’s team got not only the attention of basketball fans, but that of university administrators as well.

“This team and the coaching have been amazing the last year and a half that I’ve been here,” said University President Wim Wiewel. “The kind of spirit they bring to it, the sense of fun, but also the sense that they really take it incredibly seriously.” 

Texas A&M junior guard Sydney Colson acknowledged Portland State’s tenacity in the first half.

“They forced the action,” she said. “They played a really good first half, so give them credit.”

Despite the loss, Portland State’s senior players hang up their jerseys knowing they made history as the first Portland State squad to reach the NCAA Tournament.

“This was our goal. To make it to the NCAA tournament,” said Valentine. “Now we’re just going to work harder—during the summer and the pre-season—in order to get back here next year.”

“Going out as Big Sky champs isn’t too bad either,” said senior forward Erin Yankus.

First round, NCAA Tournament
March 20, Seattle, Wash.
Score by period        1st    2nd    Final
Portland State            31    22    53
Texas A&M                 39    45    84