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Holton gets the Pilots thinking defense again

Sounds like the point has been well taken at the University of Portland.

With the knowledge that nine consecutive opponents had shot better than .431 against them, and that the rebounding margin had slipped to minus-one, UP coach Michael Holton went on the offensive about defense and rebounding before the Pilots' final nonconference game with Idaho State on Sunday.

'If we defend and rebound we will be able to get out and run. We will create more opportunities for ourselves,' says Holton, whose team beat ISU 67-35 to finish 11-4 in nonleague play. The West Coast Conference season gets going this week, as Portland travels to St. Mary's and Santa Clara.

Ah, yes, the never-changing struggle of coaches trying to get players to think defense first.

'We will be more aggressive in conference play,' UP's Donald Wilson vows. 'We will pick our defense up.'

Adds Darren Cooper, after the Pilots limited ISU to 23 percent shooting and outrebounded the Bengals by 10: 'Coach emphasized that we had to get stops on defense, and run the floor well.'

Yes, but what about defense against WCC teams, including Gonzaga? 'We just have to go out there and play great defense,' Cooper says.

OK, but don't forget about the other issues. The WCC has gone a collective 72-36 in nonleague games, a .667 win percentage that broke the league's previous preseason best of .649 in 1978-79; ironically UP's 11 nonleague wins are the most since 1978-79 (12-1), and equaled last year's total. It's a competitive conference this season, and the coaches picked the Pilots to finish last.

Before limiting Idaho to 21 percent and ISU to 16 percent, the Pilots had given up 3-point percentages of .409 or higher in their previous seven games. It's the inside-outside defense thing that UP will battle all year with double-teams necessary because of its work-in-progress frontline.

The Pilots have shot poorly from the free-throw line, only 68 percent, including 13 of 24 against Idaho State Ð the sixth game of .591 or lower.

And the Pilots, who are better on the interior with Ben Sullivan and Marcus Lewis joining Dreshawn Vance, still cannot take much heat off them with the 3-pointer Ñ shooting just 33 percent out there, including 4 of 16 against Idaho State. Pooh Jeter has shot 44 percent, but Darren Cooper (.303) and Karl Aaker (.200) need to help out. Aaker, a senior, earned the role of substitute shooter after he beat out Sean Smith, who left the team seeking more playing time elsewhere.

Holton says UP coaches 'wanted to ring the bell loudly' about what the Pilots need to do to win. With a more balanced team led by Jeter, the standout junior guard, the Pilots can go .500 or better in the WCC by playing good defense and staying close on the boards.

'We think our best basketball is ahead of us,' Holton says.

Vikings win opener

Downtown on Saturday, Portland State improved to 9-4 overall by beating Weber State 73-62 in its Big Sky Conference opener. Sluggish in the first half, PSU turned up its intensity, defense, rebounding and offensive execution. The Vikings finish out their seven-game homestand against Sacramento State and Northern Arizona this week.

The first four home games came against nonconference patsies, and the Vikings shot .571, .653, .569 and .526 from the field Ñ no surprise, they lead the Big Sky in shooting. Against Weber State, it was .521, including .583 in the second half.

Point guard Will Funn has been much better, Seamus Boxley has raised his average to 19 points a game and freshman center Scott Morrison has been a fundamentally sound player inside. A big boost to the offense has been shooting guard Jake Schroeder, a junior college transfer whose 3-point percentage has risen to 39 percent. 'He can spread the defense for us,' coach Heath Schroyer says.

More importantly, Schroyer feels like his team has reintroduced itself to defense and rebounding, its staple last season. 'We established an identity' in the final four preseason games, Boxley says. 'Before, we weren't pressing (defensively), picking up people for all 96 feet, getting up in their face. And the ball was getting sticky Ñ we (solidified) how we rotate the ball.'

Ducks stumble

Combined, the state's four Division I schools Ñ Oregon, Oregon State, PSU and UP Ñ went 35-12 in nonleague action. Then Oregon goes and loses its second Pac-10 game, 70-62 to UCLA at home. É A burp or a symptom? Too many turnovers, not enough rebounds, 25 percent shooting from 3-point range and Aaron Brooks held to 14 points after a career-high 34 against USC. So, who's the favorite when the Ducks and Beavers meet Saturday at McArthur Court? Prediction: OSU 66, UO 63.