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Preview: Portland State hosts Northern Colorado with the top spot in the Big Sky on the line

The crowded top-4 of the Big Sky standings means that a favorable combination of wins and losses could catapult Portland State from fourth place to a three-way tie for first place in just one game.

Ashley Bolston led Portland State with 14 points in the Vikings’ first meeting of the season with Northern Colorado.
Courtesy of Portland State Athletics via Twitter

With the top four teams in the Big Sky all within a game of each other, the results on any given day could either spread the records out more or create an even bigger deadlock, inviting tiebreakers galore come time for conference tournament seeding.

For example, this afternoon’s meeting between the Northern Colorado Bears and the Portland State Vikings is a battle between No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, but a win for the Vikings puts them right back at the top — that is, pending the results of the concurrent games featuring also-No. 1 Idaho and No. 3 Idaho State. That’s how close things are.

Today, Northern Colorado can maintain the top spot by taking its game plan from these teams’ Dec. 31 meeting, which resulted in a Bears win: get every player some good looks, and make it rain from three.

Despite shooting just 40.3 percent from the floor in these teams’ last clash — which, improbably, is UNC’s season average — four Bears scored in double figures. This result was mainly thanks to going 13-of-29 from three, with 15 of Micayla Isenbart’s game-high 21 points coming on 5-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc. Even the players that didn’t hit double figures had major contributions for the Bears, as Ali Meyer grabbed 15 rebounds and Krystal Leger-Walker had 8 assists.

UNC is also coming off a Feb. 4 win over Montana State that saw Savannah Smith — who had 15 points in the Dec. 31 Portland State win — score a career-high (and program-record) 37 points on 14-of-20 shooting. Once more, four Bears scored in double figures.

None of this recent dominance means that the Vikings can’t disrupt the Bears’ rhythm, though. Although Portland State’s conference losses this season have come to first-place Idaho and third-place Idaho State — both in heartbreakingly close decisions — in addition to UNC, the Bears have had trouble with teams lower in the standings, falling at home to fifth-place Montana State and eleventh-place Weber State.

Plus, if the Vikings can keep things close going into the halftime break, their past three games have featured game-changing scoring runs in the third quarter, most recently against Sacramento State on Feb. 7. In that win, three Portland State players scored in double figures while three more had 8 points apiece.

Another way Portland State can win, especially if it’s close late? Get the Bears to the line, as their free-throw shooting comes in at 10th in the conference at just 65.9 percent. Though if the Vikings can use their home-court energy to capitalize on their conference-best scoring defense — or any number of key areas where the team leads the Big Sky, including blocks, assists and defensive rebounds — perhaps a win will end up being just as straightforward as the numbers suggest it should be.

Game information

Northern Colorado Bears (14-6, 9-2) at Portland State Vikings (16-4, 8-3)

When: Saturday, Feb. 9, at 5 p.m. ET

Where: Viking Pavilion, Portland, OR

How to watch: Pluto TV (free streaming)