What: Portland State (2-9) at Southern Utah (6-3)
Where: Centrum Arena (5,300), Cedar City, Utah
When: Thursday, 6 p.m. PT
TV/Radio: Live video stream at www.WatchBigSky.com
Losing by 71 points is never fun for anybody, so when Portland State was trounced at Princeton (104-33) on Dec. 19, the Vikings desperately needed a victory at Columbia on Dec. 21 in order to head into the holiday break on a happy note.
Thanks to Emily Eason’s clutch 3-pointer in the final 20 seconds, PSU escaped New York City with a 71-66 win over Columbia, putting them into a positive frame of mind as they begin Big Sky Conference competition today at Southern Utah in Cedar City.
Portland State rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit to edge Columbia.
“I was extremely proud of the resiliency and how much character our players had in bouncing back and beating a good team like Columbia on the road,” PSU head coach Sherri Murrell told Viking Tales. “It was a big win for us in how we responded. It could have gone the other direction, but it didn’t. We played very good team basketball.”
The Vikings travel to Northern Arizona in the back half of the two-game road trip for a Saturday afternoon (1 p.m. PT) contest at the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff.
With two wins during non-conference play, the start of the Big Sky schedule represents a fresh start for the Vikings. Since the Big Sky is a one-bid league and only eight teams earn spots in the conference tournament, every contest from this point on is critically important.
“There is a lot riding on every single game,” Murrell said. “I told the team that it’s a new season, but it’s ‘the’ season. This what our season is all about, the conference. It doesn’t matter if you come in 111-0. That helps with confidence, but if you don’t win in your conference, it doesn’t matter.”
After winning six of their first seven games, Southern Utah enters Big Sky play on a two-game losing streak with losses at Gonzaga (70-51) and at home to New Mexico State (81-64) on Dec. 29 in their last two contests.
The Thunderbirds won five straight games to open the season before losing to UC Davis (76-55). They have gone 2-2 in their last four games and enter conference play with the second best record in the league. SUU is 4-1 at home this season.
SUU is very good offensively with the third highest scoring offense in the Big Sky (70.2 ppg) and third best shooting percentage (41.5). Defensively, the Thunderbirds are third-worst in the league allowing 71.1 points per contest, while opponents are shooting 40.6 percent from the floor.
“Every single game in this conference is going to be a grind,” Murrell said. “There are good teams and good players and good coaches everywhere. There are no gimmees.”
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP
G – Lariel Powell, Sr. (9.6 ppg)
G – Emily Easom, Jr. (13.1)
F – Lauren Holt, So. (8.0)
F – Mikaela Rivard, Sr. (10.4)
C – Alicia Carline, Jr. (8.3)
Points Per Game: Emily Easom (13.1)
Total Points: Emily Easom (144)
Minutes: Emily Easom (416)
Field Goals Made: Emily Easom (49)
Field Goals Attempted: Mikaela Rivard (121)
Field Goal Pct: Alicia Carline (.490)
3-Point Field Goals Made: Emily Easom (22)
3-Point Field Goals Attempted: Emily Easom (70)
Free Throws Made: Lauren Holt (28)
Free Throws Attempted: Lauren Holt (37)
Total Rebounds: Lauren Holt (58)
Offensive Rebounds: Alicia Carline (17)
Defensive Rebounds: Lauren Holt (45)
Assists: Lariel Powell (50)
Turnovers: Lariel Powell (57)
Blocks: Alicia Carline (15r)
Steals: Lariel Powell (17)
Jan. 1 at Southern Utah, 6 p.m.
Jan. 3 at Northern Arizona, 1 p.m.
Jan. 8 NORTHERN COLORADO, 7 p.m.
Jan. 10 NORTH DAKOTA, 2 p.m.
Jan. 15 at Eastern Washington, 6 p.m.
(All Times Pacific)
— Murrell picked up her 120th win at Portland State against Columbia. She is 120-107 overall and 65-55 in Big Sky play in eight years at PSU. Chris Boettcher is in his first year leading Southern Utah.
— Portland State leads the all-time series with Southern Utah, 10-5, and 4-3 on the road. However, since SUU joined the Big Sky Conference in 2012-13, the Thunderbirds have won four straight games over the Vikings and both meetings in Cedar City.
— Guard Hailey Mandelko leads SUU with 15.9 points per game and has been the Thunderbirds highest scorer five times this season, including the past three games. She opened the season with a 29-point performance against Boise State. Guard Desiree Jackson is second on the Thunderbirds with 14.7 points per game.
— Portland State is 8-10 in Big Sky openers dating back to the 1996-97 season. The Vikings are 4-3 in openers under Head Coach Sherri Murrell, including an 86-74 win at Eastern Washington last season.
— Portland State committed a season-high 33 turnovers in the lopsided loss at Princeton. Two days later, the Vikings had a season-low 13 turnovers in the win over Columbia. PSU also forced a season-high 21 turnovers against Columbia, making them plus-8 in turnover margin. For the season, PSU has committed 59 more turnovers than the opposition, an average of 5.4 per game. “We are so much better offensively when we share the ball and trust one another,” Murrell said. “They saw that against Columbia and Navy. Those were the two games we did that the best.”
— Besides turnovers, PSU also needs to improve in the rebounding department. At the moment, the Vikings are minus-8.4 per game in total rebounds, a significant gap. “We have to do a better job of rebounding ,” Murrell said. “It really ignites a lot of our offense. But we have been getting killed. We’re not very big at times, but it’s about effort too. We just have to box out.”
— Murrell said Easom “stepped up” in nonconference play and hit some big shots, including the game-winner at Columbia. Easom is averaging 37.8 minutes per game. She played the entire 40 minutes at Columbia, connecting on 6-11 shots and 7-7 free throws.
— With Yaremi Mejia sidelined for the season with a ACL injury and freshman Nele Aha from Germany still adjusting to life at the Division I level, Lariel Powell has taken over the point guard duties. She played 39 minutes at Columbia. “Lariel has been a pleasant surprise,” Murrell said. “She has had to take the point guard position a little bit more with Nele taking a little longer to come along and with Yaremi out. She has taken that burden and she has gotten better.”