All the frustrations of an underachieving women’s basketball season were erased Saturday afternoon when Portland State achieved its first berth in the NCAA tournament.
Led by the determination of point guard and MVP Claire Faucher, the Vikings won the Big Sky Conference tournament with a 62-58 victory over Montana State before 551 fans at Reese Court.
“To be part of history is something very special,” third-year coach Sherri Murrell, former coach at Washington State, said. “It took me 20 years of my career to do it, so I’m pretty happy. … What it means is this is all we’re going to expect from now on.”
Faucher scored 26 points, the first 24 coming on a tournament-record eight 3-pointers. Two of those came just seconds after the two times the Bobcats (18-14) tied the game in the second half.
“What’s funny about that is I always think before the game I’m not going to shoot the 3 tonight, I’m going to attack,” Faucher said. For some reason, I don’t know why, I started putting up all 3s. I’m thankful they were falling. I’ve had some games where they weren’t.”
It was the first time the fifth- and sixth-seeded teams met for the tournament title and only the second time a fifth seed won the title.
But PSU (18-14) wasn’t an ordinary five seed. The Vikings played for the title last year and won a game in the WNIT, finishing with a 23-10 record.
After its most successful Division I season, Portland State entered the season as the league favorite.
“I felt like the pressure got to us,” Murrell said.
But everything changed this weekend.
“No. 1 is the adjustments; the zone defense was huge for us,” Murrell said. “No. 2 is we kind of relish the underdog. We’re the fifth seed but we were still picked to win … everyone had an extreme amount of confidence that we can do this.”
Faucher was the catalyst but she had help.
Junior Kelli Valentine had 26 points as the Vikings beat Idaho State and Montana but was 2 of 8 shooting when Faucher dished her the ball with less than 2 minutes remaining in a one-point game. Valentine’s basket made it 60-57 with 1:51 to play.
“I thought for sure Claire was going to put that up,” the junior from Mead said. “When I got it, I just knew that I had to finish.”
Valentine made the all-tournament team for the second-straight season, along with teammate Eryn Jones, who made two free throws after an offensive rebound by Valentine with 24 seconds left.
Sarah Strand and Erica Perry, who had 19 and 18 points, respectively, for MSU, were also on the all-tournament team along with Oana Iacovita of Idaho State.
Portland St. 62, Montana St. 58
Montana State (18-14)- Strand 8-14 0-2 19, Semansky 1-1 1-3 3, Perry 6-16 4-5 18, Jackson 3-6 0-0 6, Bussey 2-8 0-0 6, Schmitt 0-0 0-0 0, Albert 0-5 0-0 0, Bak 0-1 0-0 0, Thornton 2-4 2-2 6. Totals 22-55 7-12 58.
Portland State (18-14)- Yankus 1-6 0-0 2, Depaepe 1-3 0-0 2, Faucher 9-20 0-0 26, Jones 2-12 6-6 11, Bishop 1-3 0-0 3, Marchant 2-9 1-2 6, Valentine 3-9 0-2 6, Wade 2-3 0-0 4, Cremer 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 22-66 7-10 62.
Halftime—Portland State 29 Montana State 24. 3-Point Goals—Montana State 7-19 (Strand 3-6, Perry 2-5, Bussey 2-6, Albert 0-2), Portland State 11-30 (Depaepe 0-1, Faucher 8-16, Jones 1-5, Bishop 1-1, Marchant 1-5, Valentine 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Montana State 46 (Jackson, Bussey 10), Portland State 35 (Valentine 6). Assists—Montana State 12 (Perry 4), Portland State 10 (Faucher 6). Total Fouls—Montana State 9, Portland State 10.
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