December proved to be a good month for the Vikings, despite the dreary weather and holiday stress. While the rest of us were stuffing our faces and trying on oversized knit sweaters from Grandma, the Vikings men’s and women’s basketball teams were hard at work, earning wins and gaining respect.
The Viking men continued to prove why they were the preseason number two pick in the Big Sky Conference, going 7-2 through Jan. 1, to raise their record to 9-4, with their only losses coming against crosstown rival Portland and Big-10 powerhouse Ohio State.
The Vikings find themselves riding a season-high five-game winning streak – their longest in seven years. All five of those wins have come at the Stott Center and are part of an eight-game homestand, including three Big Sky Conference games.
The wins were impressive. Each game saw the Vikings pick up the W by double digits, including three games in which the Viks scored 80 or more. The highlight of non-conference play was an 89-44 effort against Maryland Eastern Shore. The 45 point margin was the largest win over a Division 1 program ever and served as a coming out party for frosh center Scott Morrison, who dominated in the paint on his way to a career-high 22 points in only 22 minutes of action.
In the midst of the impressive success of the men’s squad, the extremely young Viking women held their own and earned their first two wins of the season. The Viks notched their first victory in a Dec. 17 road game against UC Irvine. The win broke a school record seven-game losing streak.
Portland State’s first home victory came 11 days later against Utah Valley State. The team hung on for the 75-66 final tally in an exciting game that had the Stott Center as loud as it has been all season for a women’s game. The women shot 44 percent from the field and limited turnovers, which have plagued them all season, to only 10.
Heather Arns once again led the way with 19 points, 8 boards and a career high 8 assists. Frosh forward Delaney Conway added 12 and senior captain Heidi Stuart was as consistent as always with 15 points. Sitting at the bottom of the Big Sky pack at 2-7, the Viking women still have a long way to go, but the growing pains are finally yielding some results.
Portland State basketball has a busy month ahead. The men will be mixing it up in Big Sky play from the outset, with their next game against Sacramento State Thursday at home. The women still have two non-conference games to look forward to before starting conference play on January 15 against Eastern Washington at home.
What we’ve learned in preseason
Surprise: sophomore Heather Arns. Arns has come out of nowhere with frenetic play to become the team leader in points, rebounds and field goal percentage. She is the only player to average double figures.
Biggest disappointment: The Vikings have given several large leads away and have blown close games late. While this is hardly shocking, Portland State must learn to control the ball and limit turnovers to stay competitive.
Added inside help: Joining starting center Carly Fromdahl in the battle to control the boards are two athletic volleyball players, Lisa Thomas and Marla Morin. Thomas has already grabbed 20 rebounds in only six games of limited action off the bench.
Injury to insult: The Vikings played practically their entire preseason without incumbent point guard Ashley Brown, who was out with a stress fracture. Her return to the lineup should help stabilize a Viking team that averages more turnovers than assists.
Conference play: The young Vikings have only two more games of preseason action before they must face a conference in which they were picked to finish last. To have any success, the Viks must make better decisions with the ball and hope to raise their miserable .348 field goal percentage.
What we’ve learned in the preseason
Surprise: freshman center Scott Morrison. A potential redshirt before the season started, Morrison’s quick development and hustle have made him a key starter. If he continues to develop at this rate he could be a star and PSU could have the centerpiece for the post-Boxley era.
Disappointment: transfer guard Josh Neeley. Expected to be an immediate contributor, a preseason ankle injury and the emergence of Will Funn have hurt Neeley’s opportunities. He has looked better recently and should shine with more playing time.
He’s on fire!: Portland State is shooting a whopping 49.9 percent from the field to lead the Big Sky. Easy buckets fueled by strong defense have become a trademark of this year’s Viks.
The three c’s: consistency, consistency, consistency. Sometimes it looks like the Vikings turn their effort on and off. To succeed in conference play the Vikings will need to keep it on.
We’re No.1!: It’s been a long time since a PSU team was a favorite to win and the Vikings biggest test will be to develop the killer attitude of a winner. Close road wins over Howard and Jackson State bode well for the team’s ability to gut out tough wins, but we won’t know its true composure until PSU trails late in a conference road game.