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ON COLLEGE HOOPS/BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Sting from narrow loss gives men's basketball extra push

COURTESY: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - BANKOFIERThe Warner Pacific men's basketball team enters the program's 11th NAIA Division II tournament with a bit of a chip on its shoulder.

A two-point loss to College of Idaho last week in the Cascade Collegiate Conference tournament title game stung. And WPC coach Jared Valentine believes that sting could help at the national tournament in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which for the Knights begins on Thursday morning.

"It does provide a little extra motivation," Valentine says. "It's disappointing to be that close to a championship and not get it, So I think that we are in a good place."

Warner Pacific (23-9) is in the 32-team national tourney for the sixth time in Valentine's seven seasons leading the program.

The Knights open against Southeastern from Lakeland, Florida. Warner Pacific, ranked No. 12 in the final NAIA D-II coaches poll, is the No. 3 seed in its eight-team bracket. Southeastern (21-9) is the No. 6 seed in the bracket.

Three of Warner Pacific's losses were to fourth-ranked College of Idaho, but the league tournament final at Caldwell, Idaho, was close throughout.

"After a little time to reflect, I felt really good about our performance," Valentine said of the championship contest.

Winners of seven of their last nine — the only two losses to C of I — Warner Pacific has found its stride. Valentine points to continued improvement individually and collectively through the season.

"Our team is figuring out that winning games is about execution and details and being disciplined and tough. There's been a lot of learning from this group," Valentine says.

Warner Pacific scored 73 points in the title game, after getting 56 and 55 in the regular-season losses to the Yotes.

"Our ball movement has gotten better — sharing the basketball and creating good shots," he says.

The Knights' three all-conference players — seniors Xavier Cannefax and De'Jon Bowman and junior Collin Malcolm — had strong performances in the CCC final. Cannefax led the way with 23 points, five rebounds and three assists. Malcolm had 21 points, five boards and two steals.

Cannefax, a 6-2 guard from South Salem High, was fourth in the conference in scoring (18.7) and leads the Knights with 3.7 assists per game.

Malcolm, a 6-6 forward from Ashland, was sixth in conference scoring (16.3) and fifth in rebounds (7.9).

Bowman, a 6-6 forward from Las Vegas, Nevada, was third in the CCC in rebounding (9.6), fourth in field-goal percentage (59.6) and had 11 double-doubles.

The other starters are 6-7 senior Keaton Bankofier, a Clackamas High grad, and junior guard Morris Bethea from Virginia. Among the regulars off the bench, 6-4 junior Brandon Bell can be a difficult matchup.

The Knights will tip off at 8:30 a.m. PT Thursday and could play as many as five games over six days.

"Depth matters," Valentine says. "Versatility in that tournament matters, having the capacity to play different styles and have enough athleticism, being able to shoot the ball, score inside, score in transition. I do think that we have those pieces."

The coach demonstrated his own versatility this season. After deploying a zone defense over his first six seasons, Valentine made this team go primarily man-to-man.

"We had the tools to defend at every position. And I felt like I didn't want to be stale. I wanted to continue to develop and evolve as a program," Valentine says. "If you don't put wrinkles in and stay innovative, then people get used to what you're doing and know how to attack it, and then it doesn't work."

Pac-12

The Oregon queen of the triple-double carried Ducks women's basketball top new heights on Sunday.

Sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu scored a Pac-12 tournament championship game record 36 points to lead Oregon to its first tourney title. The resounding 77-57 win in Seattle was Oregon's 30th of the season (a program record) and its first over Stanford away from Eugene in 31 years.

In following its Pac-12 regular-season title with the tournament trophy, the No. 6 Ducks had to rally past ninth-ranked UCLA with a 10-0 run to close the semifinal and produce an emotional, 65-62 win over the Bruins.

Projections have the Ducks as a No. 2 NCAA Tournament seed. A year ago, as a No. 10 seed, Oregon reached the Elite Eight. There are no guarantees they can take the next step, but at this point doubting these Ducks would be silly.

• Oregon and Oregon State open the Pac-12 men's basketball tournament in Las Vegas on Wednesday trying to avenge losses from a week ago. The 10th-seeded Beavers face Washington at 6 p.m. The sixth-seeded Ducks go up against Washington State at 8:30 p.m..

If OSU wins, it faces USC in Thursday's conference quarterfinals. Oregon would meet Utah if it reaches the quarterfinals.

Both Oregon schools finished the regular season on a winning note. Oregon State's win at Washington State ended a 22-game run of road losses for the Beavers (15-15, 7-11 Pac-12). Oregon's win at Washington (despite again struggling to score in crunch time) gave the Ducks an eighth consecutive 20-win season and a winning record in conference play (10-8).

Big Sky

The Portland State men and women both were No. 6 seeds for the Big Sky tournament this week at Reno, Nevada.

The Viking women opened tournament play Monday night against 11th seed Northern Arizona. The winner faces Eastern Washington in Wednesday's 8 p.m. quarterfinals.

The PSU men open at 8 p.m. Tuesday against Sacramento State. Win that and the Viks face Eastern Washington at 8 p.m. Thursday.

• For the Portland State women, guard Kylie Jimenez was named Big Sky freshman of the year while Ashley Bolston (second team) and Sidney Rielly (third team) received all-conference recognition.

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