Vikings turn around after tough loss on Monday, take big third-quarter lead over Vandals on Wednesday but fall, 73-68

PORTLAND, Ore.— In terms of a two-day turnaround, the Portland State women’s basketball team pulled off everything they could have asked for in a rematch with Idaho on Wednesday. Everything but the final result, as the Vikings were upset again in a game they were leading in the fourth quarter, losing 73-68 to the Vandals at the Viking Pavilion.

The Vikings (5-22, 0-19) led up to 12 different three-pointers in the third quarter, but an 18-3 flurry from the Vandals (12-16, 11-8) filled the third and the fourth quarters put Idaho up 62-58 with 5:35 left in the fourth. The Vikings came back with six straight points to briefly regain the lead at 64-62 with 4:06 remaining, but the Vandals responded with six straight points and never relinquished the lead from there.

The Vikings had no answer for Idaho’s Beyonce Bea, who led all players with 40 points on 16 of 22 shooting. Bea scored 24 of her 40 points in the second half, including 14 in the fourth quarter alone.

“We set goals before the game. Rebounds and turnovers were where our focus was. Offensive rebounds, we said five or less. We got it [Idaho had five]. We lost the rebound by one point but the turnovers were even. So, I’m happy with those things,” the Portland State head coach said. Chelsey Gregg said after the game.

“It comes down to, can we get saves when we need them and we can’t give somebody [Bea] a career high for us.”

Still, the Vikings showed Gregg’s focus was in the right place as Wednesday’s game contrasted sharply with the game the teams faced on Monday. Idaho silenced the Vikings offense in this one while running away for the past three quarters en route to a 64-39 win at ICCU Arena.

On Wednesday, the Viking offensive was buzzing. While the Vikings shot just .290 (18 of 62) from the floor on Monday against the Vandals, on Wednesday the Vikings shot 46.9 percent (30 of 64) overall. That number was even higher in the first half, as the Vikings went 17-of-30 (.567) in the first 20 minutes.

The Vikings’ shooting has been trending up lately, though the team is still looking for its first conference win. The Vikings have now shot better than 40.0 percent in three of their last four games, after just twice in their first 15 Big Sky games of the season.

Part of the better shot was better distribution, which was evident in Wednesday’s game against the Vandals. The Vikings have assisted on 18 of their 30 field goals, the third time in their last five games that they have assisted on at least 60% of their field goals. Esmeralda Morales led the distribution as she finished with eight assists, the fourth time in the Vikings’ last five games that she had at least five assists in a game.

“I think we really saw a different offense than ours tonight [compared to Monday]. We shared basketball, which I really, really liked. Eighteen assists, positives. We stepped up and took a few shots, and the players found ways to affect the game even without scoring,” Gregg said of the team’s improved attack.

Morales opened Wednesday’s game as half of a two-man show for the Vikings. Her and Savannah Dhaliwal combined for the first 18 points of the game for the Vikings, with Dhaliwal scoring the first six before Morales injected 10 of the team’s next 12. Alaya Fitzgerald eventually broke through with a good back-and-forth with Dhaliwal making it 20-19 in favor of the Vikings.

The Vikings further spread the wealth in the second quarter when six different players scored all seven goals for the team.

The Vikings extended their lead after halftime. Bea opened the half with a bucket for the Vandals which made it 37-35, but the Vikings immediately responded with a 9-0 run to go up 11 at 46-35. Fitzgerald capped the run with a second three-point chance that came from an assist from Dhaliwal after an offensive rebound from Jada Lewis.

A Dhaliwal three-pointer two possessions later gave the Vikings their first 12-point lead of the game at 49-37.

It was still a 12-point game at 53-41 when things started to change for the Vandals. Lewis responded to a three from Idaho’s Tiana Johnson with a jumper that put the Vikings up 11 at 55-44. But the Vandals then scored the final eight points of the third quarter. Fitzgerald opened the fourth quarter with a three-pointer that doubled the Vikings’ lead to six at 58-52, but the Vandals came back with 10 straight to come back 62-58.

The mid-range jumpers of Morales, Lewis and Syd Schultz put the Vikings back in front, 64-62, but the Vandals outscored the Vikings 11-4 the rest of the way to close it.

Morales and Dhaliwal combined for 41 of the Vikings’ 68 points against the Vandals. Morales finished with 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting to go with eight assists, three rebounds and three steals. Dhaliwal had 19 goals on 9 of 14 shooting to go along with three assists and two rebounds.

“I thought Sav was a dog. She came in ready to play tonight. And Esme, the ball’s been in her hand for most of the game and she’s only got two turnovers. Well done,” Gregg said of by Dhaliwal and Morales.

Fitzgerald, who returned from a concussion in Monday’s opener against the Vandals, showed she’s back in form with 10 points to go with four assists, three rebounds and a steal.

Mia ‘Uhila was held scoreless but found other ways to contribute by setting a new career high with eight rebounds. As a team, the Vikings only lost to the Vandals — a team that leads the Big Sky in defensive rebounding percentage — by just one on the glass Wednesday. It was again a stark contrast to Monday’s game in which the Vandals beat the Vikings 49-37.

So while Gregg feels like he’s repeating himself, the progress has been there for the Vikings. They just missed the final results.

“In a season where we’re building a foundation, we talked about the process. So it’s not that difficult [to get the team to put close losses behind them] because we practiced it. We’ve trained ourselves to identify things that are positive because that’s what we can control right now. We can ask ourselves, what did we do well in the week, in the match, in training? What can be improved? And how can we improve this? And I think that practice has really helped us.”

The Vikings wrap up their regular season on Friday, when they’ll have one last chance to couple their progress with their desired end result. Eastern Washington heads to the Viking Pavilion for a whistleblower at 6 p.m. Friday night. It will also be Senior Day for Dhaliwal, who would love nothing more than to pick up a win.

Game Notes: The Vikings fell to 14-32 all-time against Idaho after Wednesday’s loss… Bea’s 40 points were one of the single-game records for a Viking opponent than Gretchen Meinhardt of the University of Pacific, established with 41 on Dec. 31. 1990… Wednesday’s game was the sixth time this season – and the third time in the Vikings’ last four games – that they’ve either led or tied their opponent in the fourth quarter.

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