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Vikings plot their Big Sky plans

On College Hoops
by: KATIE HARTLEY, Portland State post Scott Morrison tries to get the ball back from San Jose State on Dec. 28. The Viks could contend for the Big Sky title.

The Portland State women took their 10-3 record into Big Sky Conference play at Sacramento State on Thursday night.

It's the best start for the Vikings at the Division I level, but they have to buck history to beat Montana and the other Big Sky teams. Portland State has a 67-99 all-time record in 12 years of Big Sky play, including 24-59 on the road.

Portland State, which also plays at Northern Arizona on Saturday, went 8-8 in the Big Sky last year.

'I'm very familiar with the Big Sky, know the coaches quite well,' says first-year coach Sherri Murrell, who previously coached at Washington State, Pacific and George Fox, as well as at PSU as an assistant. 'It's a tough conference as far as travel; if you split (games), it's a good thing on the road.'

The 10-3 record surprised Murrell.

'As we have more success, there's more expectations on the kids,' she says. 'I tell them to compete and work hard and don't worry about the stress of winning.'

The Vikings were leading the Big Sky at 75 points per game and in assists, led by point guard Claire Faucher and forwards Kelsey Kahle and Delaney Conway. Lately, the Vikings have not turned the ball over much, and they hit 13 3-pointers at Utah Valley (104-99 loss).

Faucher leads the country in assists, with 9.5 per game, and has hit key shots in three wins.

The Vikings played their last eight nonleague games away from Stott Center and went 5-3 - including two wins at Concordia University when their home court was being repaired after water damage. The last home game was Nov. 25, a 75-72 win over Gonzaga, which Murrell says was the best game of the preseason, along with the 75-68 loss at USC.

• Portland's women (10-5) matched their win total from last season with a 74-61 victory over Sacramento State last weekend. The Pilots also beat Pacific 84-64 recently. They open West Coast Conference play against Loyola Marymount on Thursday.

'I've watched virtually everybody in the league on tape and, yes, we can win it. It's a crapshoot in our conference,' UP coach Jim Sollars says. 'We have to play with maturity and avoid key injuries, which have plagued us in the past.

'We have to work on consistently shooting the ball - shot selection. We have good shooters who haven't shot the 3 well.'

• Lincoln High's Lauren Greif has started all 13 games for the No. 11 Cal Bears, who took their 11-2 record into this week's games at USC and UCLA.

She scored a season-high 17 points, hitting 4 of 5 3-pointers, in last week's 99-44 win at Washington State. The 5-10 sophomore is averaging 8.6 points and 4.3 rebounds.

• Lakeridge High's Jillian Harmon has played some post and wing for No. 2 Stanford (12-1), which also visits the L.A. schools this week. The 6-1 junior has started seven of 13 games, averaging 8.2 points and 6.2 rebounds.

• No doubt, the Portland State men have their eyes on a Big Sky championship.

Post Scott Morrison started his career with one, playing on the 2004-05 title team that failed to make the NCAA Tournament when it lost in the conference tourney.

'It would be an ideal way to close out the season and end my career,' says Morrison. He's the only fourth-year player on the team.

The Vikings average 67.2 points per game and shoot .449 from the field and .377 from 3-point land -middle of the pack in the Big Sky. The one glaring stat: The Viks hit only .644 at the free-throw line.

• The Portland men (5-9) play at Army on Saturday, concluding their two-game East Coast swing.

The Pilots got thumped at Yale 88-70 on Wednesday, giving up a season-high points and shooting percentage (63 percent).

Like the UP women, the Pilots open WCC play next week.

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