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Kerry Eggers on Sports: Portland State men's basketball team extends win streak to five, clinches fourth seed in Big Sky tourney

PMG FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Matt Hauser shoots for Portland State as coach Barret Peery watches.Barret Peery's formula for basketball success is simple. Defend 94 feet for 40 minutes. Crash the offensive glass. Score at least 80 points.

It's been working particularly well of late. Portland State pressured Northern Arizona into 17 turnovers, grabbed 13 offensive rebounds and put up a 50-spot in the second half en route to an 80-66 victory Thursday night at Viking Pavilion.

It was the fifth straight win for the Vikings (17-14 overall, 11-8 in Big Sky action), who have clinched the fourth seed in next week's conference tournament at Boise, Idaho.

"Nice to not have to play the first day," said Peery, in his third season at the PSU helm.

The Lumberjacks (16-13, 10-10) entered the game with a chance at the fourth seed, and they hung in for a half, trailing only 30-28 at intermission despite shooting 1 for 9 from 3-point range and 1 for 7 at the free-throw line.

"We were really passive in the first half," Peery said. "The second half looked more like us."

Portland State shot .567 from the field and made 6 of 15 3-point attempts after halftime. And the Vikings pressured effectively at the defensive end.

"We turned them over 10 times in the second half, so the pace went our way," Peery said. "Their zone slowed us a little bit, but we took good shots and finished around the rim."

Guards Matt Hauser and Holland "Boo Boo" Woods combined for 36 points, 11 assists and one turnover. Hauser gunned in 5 of 11 3-point shots and scored 21 points to go with six assists.

Hauser is a grad senior who transferred from Santa Clara to play his final season for Peery, who had served as an assistant coach at Santa Clara when Hauser was a sophomore.

"Coach Peery was a big influence on how I was as a person and how I developed as a player that year," Hauser said. "I figured to finish out a fifth year under him would be an awesome thing — to play for someone you trust and care about.

"He has a great personality. He builds a great relationship with all his guys. He has some serious fire to him. He gets us to play hard. I've never seen someone so passionate about people."

Last season, Portland State did the things Peery emphasizes well. The Vikings led the nation in turnover margin (plus-5.4 per game), were second in steals (9.8), turnovers forced (18.1) and offensive rebounds (14.5), and were third in scoring (85.2 points). They haven't quite reached those figures this season, though they entered Thursday ranked fourth in offensive boards (14.0) and 14th in steals (8.7).

Peery thinks PSU's regular season would have been even better had Hauser and center Sal Nuhu — who leads the Big Sky in blocked shots and had three Thursday night — not missed seven games due to injuries.

"The biggest thing in basketball is health," Peery said. "I like our team a lot when we have all our pieces. We've had a lot of guys who play big roles for us miss games. The last couple of weeks, it's been nice to have everybody here."

Peery's nine-man rotation includes six seniors, none of whom started their college careers at PSU.

"It really helps to have that kind of experience," he said. "We have guys who came from other Division I programs, guys who know what it's all about. Now we're 31 games into it. They better know what it's all about."

During their five-game win streak, the Vikings have averaged 87 points per game. They seem to be peaking at the right time. They have scorers, a great point guard in Woods — a junior who already is the school career record-holder in steals and assists — and enough role players to be a threat for the Big Sky championship next week.

That's the goal Peery had when he arrived at PSU three years ago.

"I like where we're at," said Peery, 48. "We're playing good right now, and it's all about playing good in March. I like our group. They've been really easy to work with. They've answered the call every week. When we've had injuries or tough trips or four games in eight days, they've answered. Our character has been good."

Peery's career record at PSU is 53-44, 31-26 in Big Sky play. His first team went 20-14 and 9-9, finishing sixth in the conference. Last season, the Viks were 16-16 and 11-9, tied for fourth. With a win over Sacramento State at 7 p.m. Saturday in the regular-season finale and a couple of victories in the Big Sky tournament, Peery would have another 20-win season.

He wants to do that every season. He wants the 3,200-seat Viking Pavilion, which opened last season, to be a tar pit for opponents (PSU is 10-3 at home this season). And he wants the Vikings to be a conference contender every season.

"We can be there," the PSU coach said. "We have one of those places that is really likeable to kids. With our facility and our city, people are understanding who we are and what we're trying to do. And our product is pretty good."

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