Young Pilots learning how to win
Terry Porter knew there would be plenty of teaching moments in this basketball season for his Portland Pilots squad that plays four freshmen and six first-year players.
Last week, the Pilots experienced the best kind of learning: lessons in winning.
In prevailing over Pepperdine in overtime and Loyola Marymount on two late free throws, Portland (10-15, 4-8 West Coast Conference) made key plays with the game in the balance. Sure, the wins came over the only teams below the Pilots in the WCC standings. But such tense wins can leave a lasting impression.
"Early in the year, we had turnovers by our young guys in late-game situations that we didn't do a good job of executing. And we learned from those," Terry Porter said after Saturday's 68-66 win over LMU. "We've done a much better job in all of these games of executing down the stretch at both ends of the floor."
Examples of growth in that win included the game-winning play. Freshman Marcus Shaver Jr. was able to drive to the basket, draw a foul and knock down two free throws with 2.3 seconds on the clock. In Thursday's win over Pepperdine, Shaver scored seven of Portland's 14 points in overtime.
Shaver and fellow freshman guard JoJo Walker also took turns holding LMU's top scorer James Batemon six points below his season average.
Freshman forward Tahirou Diabate scored a game-high 19 points against Pepperdine and came up with a key blocked shot late in both games — the kind of momentum shifting play that Diabate has started to make consistently.
A native of Mali who starred as a high school player in Japan, the 6-9 Diabate has started the last 10 games. He was inserted into the starting lineup early in the conference schedule to provide rim protection and rebounding.
"He's stuck to the grind and learned and been really receptive to what everyone had to tell him. He is an example of our growth as a team," senior wing D'Marques Tyson said. "Earlier in the season, he would have been worried about where he needed to be and not worried about protecting the rim. He realizes that now and embraces his role and is a solid rim protector."
For his part, Tyson has embraced a role as the scorer off the bench. In Saturday's game against LMU, he made 6 of 8 3-pointers and scored a game-high 22 points.
Terry Porter calls Tyson the Pilots version of Vinnie "Microwave" Johnson, who torched Porter's Trail Blazers in the 1990 NBA Finals.
The two tight victories are an emotional lift for a Pilots team that at 4-8 in conference has doubled last season's WCC win total.
"We've started playing as more of a team. That's how we got these two wins," said redshirt sophomore Franklin Porter, who scored 12 points in both of last week's wins, including eight of the final 16 minutes against LMU. "It just builds confidence for the whole team. Going into this stretch, we have a schedule that we feel like is more favorable, and we're just trying to get a higher seed going into the conference tournament."
Plenty of learning is still ahead for the Pilots, who visit San Francisco on Thursday and Damon Stoudamire's Pacific Tigers on Saturday, then play three of their last four at home.
"Our guys are growing. We're making progress," Terry Porter said. "We've still got a long road ahead to try to finish out the right way. But it's great to have momentum, great to have these guys locked into what we're trying to get done."
'Boo Boo' boom
Portland was not alone in getting big-time plays from freshmen on Saturday. Portland State's Holland "Boo Boo" Woods led the Vikings to a much-needed win over Eastern Washington at Lewis & Clark.
Woods hit all 10 of his shots from the floor (a program record for most field goals without a miss) en route to 29 points. The point guard also had nine assists and no turnovers as PSU finished with 22 assists and six turnovers to stop a three-game skid.
Portland State coach Barret Peery describes Woods — who was runner up for Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year last season — as wise beyond his years.
"He's been tremendous all year with his ability to handle the ball for us for extended minutes," Peery said. "When he gets shooting the ball like that, then he's really hard to guard because he can get you coming and going."
The month of January involved a lot of coming and going for the Vikings, who were shorthanded nearly the entire month because of illness, injury and suspension. Top scorer Deontae North has missed three games and as of early this week remained suspended indefinitely.
Woods and Bryce Canda are the only Vikings to start all 10 Big Sky games, and Peery has used five different starting fives in those 10 games.
By comparison, the Idaho team that beat PSU a week ago has used the same five starters all season, Peery noted.
"January was kind of a tumultuous, crazy month. What we're hoping for is just to have a nice, smooth February and try to keep things normal as best we can," Peery said.
Senior forward Brandon Hollins returned to the starting lineup last weekend after pneumonia sidelined him for several weeks.
Hollins leads the conference in field-goal percentage (.588).
"He's been a tremendous energy guy for us," Peery said. "He's a rebounder, defender and can score the ball around the rim."
Being short on players has meant adjusting the full-court pressure, constant tempo approach that Peery introduced this season. But, despite some shooting struggles in conference, the Vikings entered this week ranked fourth in the nation in scoring (88.3 points per game).
The Vikings face a challenging week, with games at the Montana schools.
First is a Thursday visit to the Grizzlies, who are 11-0 in conference play. Montana's closest Big Sky game was a 92-89 victory over PSU on Jan. 13 in a hard-fought game at Lewis & Clark.
Saturday afternoon, the Vikings will shoot for a second win over Montana State, which begins the week a half-game in front of PSU in the conference standings.
• Jefferson High grad Victor Sanders had 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds in Idaho's 97-88 win over PSU last week. It was the final game in Portland for Sanders, who is second in career scoring at Idaho. ... Columbia Christian High grad Arkadiy Mkrtychyan, also a senior, had 11 points and seven rebounds for Idaho.
The Warner Pacific men's basketball team was recognized as the Cascade Collegiate Conference team of the week after road wins last weekend over Northwest Christian and Corban.
Winners of five of their last six and ranked No. 15 in the most-recent NAIA Division II coaches poll, the Knights enter an important weekend tied for second place in the CCC with Eastern Oregon at 12-4. The Mountaineers visit Warner Pacific's C.C. Perry Gym at 7:30 p.m. Friday, followed by a Saturday visit from first-place College of Idaho (15-1 and No. 7 nationally).
Coach Jared Valentine points to better defense as key to the Knights' recent success — and that 'D' will be key if they are to avenge losses to EOU and C of I.
"I'm starting to get somewhat satisfied with our defensive work," Valentine says. "I don't know that we totally understood what defensive execution was for the first half of conference."
One thing the Knights do know is rebounding. Senior De'Jon Bowman, a 6-6 senior from Las Vegas, grabbed a school-record 24 boards (and scored 21 points) in the win at Northwest Christian. He is averaging 9.7 rebounds.
After this week, WPC will close the regular season with road games against Northwest and Evergreen State.
Finishing second is significant because it means the opportunity to play at home for the quarterfinals and semifinals of the conference tournament.
Valentine expects the CCC will get four teams into the national tournament. A second-place finish would mean a higher ranking and better seed for that competition.
Around the area
• Coming off of disappointing losses at Idaho and Eastern Washington, the Portland State women return to Lewis & Clark to entertain Montana at 7 p.m. Thursday and Montana State at 1 p.m. Saturday. A season-high 31 turnovers doomed the Vikings in their seven-point loss at Eastern Washington. At 5-5 (11-10 overall), PSU is eighth in the Big Sky.
• The Portland Pilots women (5-18, 1-11 WCC) play host to San Francisco at 7 p.m. Thursday and Pacific at 2 p.m. Saturday.
• With four games left, the Lewis & Clark women have the fourth of four Northwest Conference playoff spots. The Pioneers (11-10 overall) are 6-6 in conference and one game ahead of Puget Sound and Linfield. They play host to Pacific Lutheran at 6 p.m. Friday and visit Linfield at 4 p.m. Saturday. Their final two regular-season games are at George Fox and home against Puget Sound the following weekend.
• Still shooting for its first Great Northwest Athletic Conference win, the Concordia men's basketball team plays host to Saint Martin's at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Seattle Pacific at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Of the Cavaliers' 14 GNAC losses, six are by five or fewer points (and two of the last three by a single point).
• The Concordia women (6-8 GNAC) plays host to the Alaska schools at 5:15 p.m. Thursday and Saturday.