Future bright for Vikings, Pilots women's hoops
With two of the top four ranked teams in the country located in the Willamette Valley, these are heady days for college women's basketball in the state.
But the good vibes and good basketball aren't limited to Eugene and Corvallis.
The city of Portland has a pair of pretty good outfits, too, as was evident Sunday at the Chiles Center when the Portland State Vikings rallied to beat the Portland Pilots, 77-71, in an entertaining, intense, cross-town rivalry game.
The Vikings and the Pilots aren't the Ducks and the Beavers. But they are worth watching.
In some ways, the Vikings (6-3) and the Pilots (6-4) are in similar spots with conference play fast approaching.
Sure, Portland State won the Big Sky Conference tournament last season while Portland was near the bottom of the West Coast Conference. Yes, PSU coach Lynn Kennedy is in his fifth season and UP's Michael Meek his first. But, both programs have only one senior — Medford native Jordan Stotler at PSU and Portland native Kate Andersen at UP are vital for their team — and are building around talented young players with bright futures.
The player who had the biggest impact as Portland State overcame a 15-point halftime deficit was guard Desirae Hansen, who had eight assists and one turnover in the second half. The 6-foot sophomore from Rainier finished with 16 points, 10 assists and five rebounds. She displayed the competitive fire and confidence that helped her make the game-winning basket at the Big Sky Tournament as a freshman.
"She's an unbelievably talented basketball player. And when she plays like that she's hard to stop," Kennedy said.
Meek watched Hansen exploit the Pilots' defensive breakdowns with precision.
"We left some openings and she's got a real good feel for the game and she did a good job of finding those openings." the UP coach said.
The Vikings had five players score in double figures, with redshirt junior Tatiana Streun continuing to play big. She joined Hansen in double-double land with 17 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots. Twelve of Streun's points and 10 of her boards came after halftime.
All five PSU starters scored in double figures and the Viks won, despite taking 14 fewer shots, by shooting significantly better (50.9%) than did the Pilots (36.6%).
The Pilots were only 9 of 35 (2 of 13 on 3-pointers) after halftime.
Defense and much improved PSU rebounding prevented Portland from using the full-court press that contributed to 16 first-half points for the Pilots off 12 turnovers.
"We haven't been down like that at half and come back and won a game," Streun said. "I think it shows that if we execute and play defense, defense wins games. Rebounding, flying out on shooters, knowing where everyone is — if we can get that down and play like that from the beginning, we can win games."
The Vikings' last non-conference test is a significant one. Tennessee, one of the elite women's basketball programs, visits Viking Pavilion at 2 p.m. Dec. 23. The Lady Vols were ranked 23rd last week and visit top-ranked Stanford on Wednesday.
"We're still a young team. It's not perfect," said Kennedy. "But, I like our momentum in the second half and we need to carry that into next Saturday."
The Pilots, who play host to Willamette on Thursday before opening WCC play with three tough road games, have plenty of positives to carry forward, too.
Most notable of those on Sunday was the return of sophomore point guard Haylee Andrews, who missed the previous five games because of a rib injury. The 5-9 guard did not look at all rusty and finished with 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals.
"I think she had a great first game back," Meek said. "I think she's a competitor and she made some big plays when we needed her to."
Andrews knows she will get more attention from opponents after her solid freshman season. Her comfort level also is aided by the arrival of two fellow Australians.
Even playing with a brace on a tweaked ankle, 6-1 forward Alex Fowler was a problem for PSU and finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists. The Vikings did make her work in the second half by using double teams, but Meek expects that experience will only speed up Fowler's adjustment to the college game.
"She's going to be able to recognize those better. She's such a complete player and such a selfless willing passer," Meek said. "I thought she had a great game considering that she's a freshman."
Fowler followed Andrews to the Bluff. They are friends from from Townsville, Australia, who have been teammates down there for five years.
"We know each other very well on the court. It's great to have (Fowler) here," Andrews said. "It's also great to have Keeley (Frawley) here."
Andrews calls Frawley "the most hardworking person I've seen." Frawley is a 6-foot freshman forward from Melbourne, Australia who had 10 rebounds, eight points and three of Portland's 21 assists against PSU —
Meek, like Kennedy, knows there is a lot of work ahead — both for this season and to build a solid foundation for the Pilots' future. Considering how new his systems are to the players and considering the toll injuries take, Meek is upbeat about the early trajectory of his Pilots. Sophomore forward Liana Kaitu'u was starting and playing well before a knee injury Nov. 23 at Air Force ended her season.
"Considering that we're a team that's really only had a few months to start developing our system, I do feel really good about where we've gotten to in a short time. But, we're clearly not where we want to be and we know we have the potential to improve off this," Meek said after the loss to PSU. "I continue to be really proud of this group and I continue to be proud of where we're going, but we still have more work to do."
Meek's Pilots and Kennedy's Vikings won't do their work under the intense spotlight that is shining on Oregon and Oregon State teams shooting for a national championship. But, they are programs with exciting players and bright futures.
As Kennedy noted after he got the best of Portland for the third year in a row: "I think fans are in for a lot of good games in the future. This is always an exciting (rivalry) game, but going into the future it's going to be exciting to see the players grow in both programs."
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