PSU will battle for berth in Big Sky conference tourney

The Portland State men’s basketball team is about to start a big two-week stretch, with four Big Sky games, all at home.

“You’ve got to win your home games,” coach Tyler Geving says.

A spot in the conference tournament could ride on how the Vikings do on Saturday against Southern Utah, Monday against Eastern Washington, Jan. 30 versus co-leader Northern Colorado, and Feb. 1 with North Dakota.

PSU is in a four-way tie for seventh place with a 2-4 conference record.

The top seven of 11 teams will qualify for the Big Sky tourney, and “our league is so balanced,” Geving says, “that probably every coach thinks anybody can beat anybody in a tournament or on a neutral court.”

The Vikings are coming off a 1-1 road weekend. They picked up their second overtime victory in a row, beating Sacramento State 68-64 last Thursday, then wilted in the second half Saturday at Northern Arizona, as the Lumberjacks won 77-56.

The Sac State game came five days after the Viks had fought off visiting Montana in three overtimes at Stott Center.

“There was really no panic for our players and coaches” going into the OT at Sac State, Geving says. “We just said, ‘We did it the other day, let’s just do it again.’ ”

But then came a long trip to Flagstaff, Ariz., and the challenge of playing at high altitude. The Viks were leading until the end of the first half, then got outscored 29-4 early in the second half.

“We had some bad possessions and wore down a little,” Geving says. “They had more energy than we did.”

Seeing that, Geving gave his team some time off before resuming practice on Tuesday.

“You hit that midseason point where you’ve got to catch your breath and regroup,” he says. “It’s good that we don’t play until Saturday.”

Geving has hopes of adding a frontcourt player to his rotation this week. Tiegbe Bamba, a 6-6 junior-college transfer forward and native of France, has been practicing since last week, and since suffering an Achilles tendon injury that ended his season early last year at Midland (Texas) Junior College.

He could see some time soon at power forward for the vertically challenged Vikings. If he can defend and rebound, he’ll help.

“If we could get 10 to 15 minutes out of him the first week or two, that would be great, and we’d re-evaluate from there,” Geving says.

Rebounding is one of the main areas where the Vikings need to focus, Geving says. The Viks rank eighth in the conference in rebounding margin.

“We’re not taller than people, and we’re not going to out-jump anybody, so we’ve just got to concentrate on rebounding the basketball and not giving people second chances,” Geving says.

The Viks, a guard-oriented team, have done a good job moving the ball on offense, generally. They rank first in the Big Sky in assist-turnover ratio (1.2), second in turnover margin (plus-2.40), first in assists (13.6 per game) and fourth in steals (6.3). They had only three turnovers total in the second half and OT at Sac State.

But Geving says some of his club’s turnovers have been costly.

“Our offense can execute better,” he says. “We’ve done a good job taking care of the ball, but when we do turn it over, I call them touchdown turnovers, because teams go the other way and lay it in. That’s not defense, that’s your offense.

“Or we take a bad shot that is like a turnover. That’s one thing we’ve got to clean up.”RICHARDSON

The Viks got a boost inside at Sac State from 6-7 senior transfer Kyle Richardson, who had career highs of 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Then, at NAU, it was 6-10 junior Brandon Cataldo chipping in with 10 points, his career high.

“Both of them were effective against Northern Arizona; we probably should have got them a few more touches,” Geving says. “We need to keep establishing Kyle or Brandon inside. You can’t shoot jumpers all night. You have to have somebody who’s a threat around the basket.”

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