Big Sky Conference

Portland State cruises past Eastern Washington

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RENO, Nevada — As the Vikings broke down the film in preparation for their Big Sky Tournament quarterfinal matchup with Eastern Washington, Lynn Kennedy simply hoped the Delaney Hodgins show was not intimidating his players.

Eastern Washington’s star senior had as good a final month to cap her career as anyone in the history of the Big Sky Conference. Hodgins entered her senior season with 1,428 points before surging down the stretch to etch her name in the league’s record books.

The 6-footer from Pasco, Washington scored 30 points for the first time in her career against Northern Arizona, sparking a 12-game stretch that saw her score at least 25 points eight times, surpass 30 on five occasions and finish with a crescendo by scoring 46 points in EWU’s regular-season finale.

The last performance helped stamp third place and a first-round bye for the Eagles. Meanwhile, Portland State cruised past NAU in the first round before having a short window to prepare for Hodgins. The last several games worth of film showed the sharpshooter scoring 31 at Montana State, 30 against Weber State, 37 at Southern Utah and then breaking the single-season scoring mark by five points in EWU’s season-ending win over NAU.

LISTEN: PRESS CONFERENCE: Portland State 82, Eastern Washington 73

But Portland State’s third-year head coach emphasizes a smooth zone defense that allows the Vikings to never panic. Even when EWU jumped out to a 25-19 lead, PSU never waivered, instead continuing to rotate, pester, deflect and negate EWU’s offensive attack.

The Vikings limited Hodgins to 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting (her lowest output in Big Sky play this season) while using a late first-half surge to take a lead it would build upon and not relinquish as the sixth-seeded Vikings cruised into the Big Sky Tournament semifinals with an 82-73 victory in the final quarterfinal of Wednesday’s action.

Portland State guard Kylie Jimenez (23)/by Brooks Nuanez

“Going into this thing, we knew anyone could win this thing,” said Kennedy, who helped lead PSU into the semis as the No. 7 seed last spring. “Eastern Washington is a really good team. We were up for the challenge tonight. They had one of the best players in the league and we knew we had to take her out of the game somehow, limit her touches and her shots.

“They were on fire in that first quarter but we settled down in that first timeout. We knew they couldn’t hit all the 3s.”

Hodgins buried her first 3-pointer a minute into the game, one of five 3s the Eagles would hit in the opening quarter. Senior Uriah Howard hit two of her four 3-pointers in the second frame as the Eagles refused to let the Vikings assume control despite the one-possession difference on the scoreboard for most of the last six minutes of the first half.

Junior Courtney West, who scored 17 points, hit a pair of free throws with 1:22 until halftime to get PSU within two, junior Sidney Rielly hit a jumper to tie the game and recently anointed Big Sky Freshman of the Year Kylie Jimenez got a steal into a layup at the first half buzzer to give Portland State its first lead.

“She’s so quick and she’s really good at anticipating,” Rielly said of Jimenez. “Being a freshman, she’s really stepped up and taken exactly what her role needs to be in the zone.”

Portland State forward Tatiana Streun (12) defends Eastern Washington forward Violet Kapri Morrow (2)/by Brooks Nuanez

After the break, Jimenez and All-Big Sky guard Ashley Bolston — one of the league’s most unique players as a 6-foot-2 perimeter defender who can handle the ball — sat on top of Kennedy’s 2-3 zone and did not give an inch. Portland State notched 13 steals, including six by Jimenez, and forced 20 turnovers, incrementally turning each deflection into a transition opportunity on the way to 16 fast break points.

“We started getting some tipped passes and some 50/50 balls that led to fast breaks and that settled us down offensively,” Kennedy said.

Jimenez had four steals during the third quarter, helping the Vikings open what swelled into a 17-point lead midway through the fourth. Bolston notched four steals, turning three into assist opportunities in transition, and scored 20 points, one of four Vikings that ended with double-figure scoring. Rielly also scored 20, West chipped in 17 and Jimenez had 12 as PSU shot 56.3 percent in the second half.

“This proves the type of team we’ve become,” said West, a former Southern Oregon transfer by way of Sydney, Australia. “We trust each other. We’ve had some slow starts the last two games but once we get in the flow of things and play together, that’s how we stay together. We stay calm because we are confident enough we can win.”

Hodgins ends her senior season with 692 points, the third-highest single-season total in league history. That final push gives her 2,120 points in her decorated career that started with Big Sky Freshman of the Year and finished with back-to-back first-team All-Big Sky nods.

Eastern Washington forward Delaney Hodgins (4)/by Brooks Nuanez

Her career point total surpasses Shannon (Cate) Schweyen, largely considered the greatest basketball player in the history of the conference, man or women, for second on the league’s all-time scoring list. Only Idaho State legend Natalie Doma (2,296 points) scored more than Hodgins in league history.

“With the help of my teammates, I was able to have the big games I was having but tonight, I just don’t think I showed up,” Hodgins said. “It was a great year. It’s sad to end like this.

“It’s been amazing. Coach (Schuller) is like my second family, and the girls too. I didn’t expect this senior year but it’s what I’ve worked for.”

Eastern Washington won four straight and seven of nine down the stretch to finish with 12 league wins. EWU ends the season with a 17-14 mark overall and will not pursue a postseason berth.

With 29 seconds left in the game and the result not in question, EWU head coach Wendy Schuller removed Hodgins for the game for the final time, sharing a long embrace as each wept near the bench before Hodgins took her final seat on the EWU bench.

“Sad,” Schuller said. “…We wanted to win a championship, we talked about it a lot and that’s been our goal all year. But to me, the saddest part of it is this is a team, we’ve been on the road together for nine days and I think we could go for another 10. It’s a shame to know we aren’t going to be together every day.”

Eastern Washington forward Delaney Hodgins (4) blocks out Portland State point guard Ashley Bolston (0)/by Brooks Nuanez

The Vikings now turn their attention to Idaho, one of the tournament’s most weathered teams. The Vandals hit 14 3-pointers, tied for the second-most in tournament history in a single game, to post a 78-74 victory over reigning tournament champion Montana State on Wednesday.

Idaho won the Big Sky Tournament the first year the league held the contest at a neutral site in 2016. Head coach Jon Newlee led the Vandals to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments before the team rejoined the league in 2014.

The sharp-shooting pair of Mikayla Ferenz and Taylor Pierce drilled 12 of UI’s 14 triples against MSU, an all too familiar sight for Kennedy and his team. The duo combined to hit 13 3-pointers, including eight in a 39-point performance by Ferenz to lift Idaho to a 101-90 win in Portland in January.

“They lit us up,” Kennedy said.

In the rematch, PSU clawed back from a 16-point deficit to earn two different shots in the final 15 seconds to win the game, but both Bolston and Jimenez missed, helping Idaho escape with a 61-60 win, a crucial victory that proved to be the difference in the league standings as UI finished 13-5, Portland State 11-7.

“Shooters, shooters, shooters and we had a shootout the first time,” Kennedy said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us. We have to enjoy this for maybe five minutes and then get ready for Idaho.”

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved. 

About Brooks Nuanez

Brooks Nuanez, Director of Operations — Brooks is the co-founder, senior photographer and Director of Operations for Skyline Sports. He is a life-long athlete who enjoys the fierce nature of sports as much as he enjoys the sweet harmony of music. Brooks first gained an interest for photography at a young age, and grew that passion into a craft. Brooks has spent most of his life in Montana, instilling a love for the mountains and the wildlife. The University of Montana alum spent parts of three seasons as a safety for the Grizzly football team while earning a degree in business management, honing his passion for craft beer, people and his entrepreneurial spirit. In July of 2015, Brooks married his lifelong love, Kaila. The couple lives happily in Bozeman with their son Ellis.Brooks can be reached at Brooks.nuanez@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @Brooksnuanez and @SkylineSportsMT.

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