CEDAR CITY, Utah— Thursday night was all but an end for the Portland State women’s basketball team.
Playing their best basketball since restarting their season on Jan. 15, the Vikings pushed a Southern Utah team that was undefeated in the Big Sky game until last week before falling 64-63 on a free throw last second at America First Event Center.
“Really proud of the effort we made tonight. Showed courage and character after tough road losses,” the Portland State head coach said. Chelsey Gregg said afterwards.
The Vikings (5-10, 0-7 Big Sky) trailed as much as 11 points in the third quarter, but closed the period on a 7-0 streak to make it 49-45 early in the game. fourth. Savannah Dhaliwal, Esmeralda Morales and Jada Lewis then all scored the go-ahead three-pointer at various points in the fourth quarter after Southern Utah (11-6, 7-1 Big Sky) led from the first period.
Lewis struck from the outside to make it 63-62 with 1:12 to go, giving the Vikings the lead going into the final minute. Southern Utah’s Darri Dotson responded with 1 of 2 from the line to tie, 63-63, with 44.4 seconds left.
This is where late game situations started to go against the Vikings. The Thunderbirds foul the Vikings Reilly Kelty on a screen, but Kelty missed free throws with 23.5 seconds remaining to keep it tied. The Thunderbirds tried to slow the clock down for a last-second shot, but the Vikings let go and called a timeout with 1.2 seconds left. However, the Vikings failed to get the ball inbounds and Southern Utah advanced the ball into the forecourt with a timeout.
With 1.2 seconds left, the Thunderbirds fired a ball deep inside Dotson, who was fouled on the way up for a layup with 0.8 seconds left. Dotson missed the first free throw, but hit the second, and the Vikings – excluding timeouts – couldn’t put together a last-second miracle.
“We’d rather learn from wins, but close games like these will only help us get to tournament time,” Gregg said of late-game situations. “We will continue to fine-tune things with our execution, but if we can push through and bounce back like we did tonight, we’ll be fine.”
The heartbreaking ending clouded what could have been the Vikings’ best game of the season, let alone since the restart. The Vikings held the Thunderbirds — the Big Sky’s leading offense with 74.4 ppg starting Thursday — 10 points below their season average. Additionally, the Thunderbirds entered the game leading the Big Sky in rebound margin and offensive rebounds, but the Vikings actually beat the Thunderbirds, 15-11, on second chance points.
Dhaliwal produced her best game of the season, as she scored a season-high 21 points for only the second 20-point game of her career. Dhaliwal scored 14 of his 21 points after halftime and accounted for eight of the Vikings’ 18 points in the fourth quarter. Dhaliwal finished 9 of 12 (.750) from the field and 3 of 4 (.750) from three-point range, his three triples marking a new career high.
“I’m happy for Sav to have a game like this. I know our team feeds on his energy,” Gregg said.
Dhaliwal’s 3-of-4 performance from beyond the arc came as the Vikings went 10-of-27 (.379) as a team from three-point range. Lewis went 3 of 9 while scoring nine of his 14 points after halftime, while Morales and Mia ‘Uhila hit two triples each.
The Vikings also played their best defensive game in a while, as they had 11 interceptions, including three Morales and three. Alaya Fitzgerald. Additionally, the Vikings broke a season-high six blocks, with Kelty setting a new career high with five of the team’s six blocks.
The Vikings and Thunderbirds will face off again in just four days. The Vikings host the Thunderbirds in a makeover game Monday night at the Viking Pavilion. The match kicks off at 5 p.m. in doubles with the Viking Men, who host Northern Colorado at 7:30 p.m.
The Vikings next play Saturday, as they host Northern Arizona at the Viking Pavilion at 6 p.m.
And if the Vikings play with the effort they put in Thursday night, the next two games could have the ending the Vikings want.
Game Notes: The Vikings still lead the all-time series between themselves and the Thunderbirds, 16-12 despite Thursday night’s loss… The Vikings were playing their fourth straight road game on Thursday.