• Tue. Mar 28th, 2023

The Clock Strikes 12! Hornets advance over Cinderella Portland State 60-42.

ByTony Bracha

Mar 8, 2023
Isnelle Natabou speaks to the media

Photo courtesy of Scott Larson

The Cinderella-like No. 7 Portland State Vikings entered their March 7 Big Sky Tournament semi-finals matchup against the No. 3 Sacramento State Hornets after scoring a major upset on March 5 against Montana State.

The Hornets entered the game after a dominant win over the No. 6 University of Idaho, led by two huge 22-point performances from senior guard Kahlaijah Dean and junior center Isnelle Natabou.

The clock struck midnight as Sac. State dominated the second half, with a final score of 60-42.

Sophomore guard Esmeralda Morales led the team with an MVP-level performance in their first two games of the tournament, but sophomore guard Mia ‘Uhila and forward Alaya Fitzgerald scored four each in the first quarter to help to Vikings take a 15-13 lead going into the second.

Dean and Natabou scored a combined nine of 11 the Hornets’ eleven in the first.

Natabou had another statement game, with a team-high 23 points and 11 rebounds to give her a double-double. 

Her strength in the paint allowed her to score 18 points coming from layups and close-range jump shots.

“…I need to continue doing what I do, and because I know what I can do. Nothing changes, no matter who and what jerseys they are wearing. My game needs to keep going because my team needs me, and I need my team,” Natabou said on her game. “…I knew I needed to give everything into this game. Everything, because there is no tomorrow if we lose. That’s why I gave it my all.”

Sac. State struggled to shoot from range in the first quarter, going 0-5 from behind the three-point line. However, the Hornets would flip the script later.

It seemed as if Portland State would pull away early in the second after another three from Fitzgerald brought the lead to five, but the Hornets scored their first three of the game to break their 0-7 steak to get within a two.

Dean made a speedy rush down the court for a layup to tie and scored the and-one to take the lead 21-20.

The second half of the second quarter began a stretch where neither team scored for just over three minutes.

Sac. State were the first to score, to end their streak with a three-pointer from senior guard Jordan Olivares.

Portland State went the final 5:29 of the second half without a single point, with Morales missing a three-point attempt with four seconds left. The Vikings went 0-8 shooting over that stretch.

“…I think that the reality is sometimes when you don’t see the ball go in like we have in the past, the energy drops. I think that’s part of growing,” Portland State Head Coach Chelsey Gregg said during the postgame.

Sacramento State took a 25-22 lead into halftime. 

Natabou opened the scoring up early in the third for the Hornets, using her strength to make three layups to bring the Sacramento State lead to seven

Sophomore forward Rhema Ogele finally ended the scoring drought for the Vikings with two layups of her own. 

Sophomore guard Katie Penuenta scored just Sac. State’s third three of the game with 5:59 left in the third quarter to bring the lead to eight.

At the halfway point of the third quarter, Morales was shooting just 1-10 and had two points and three rebounds.

Portland State closed the gap to just two but the Hornets would pull away, going on a 12-0 run over the final 4:13 of the third quarter.

The run continued into the fourth with a layup off the rush from Olivares to bring the lead to 17.

Morales finally ended an eight-minute scoring drought for the Vikings with a three-pointer with 6:18 left in the game.

“It’s tough. You can feel the energy change a little bit, but this year we just really try to focus on ourselves during those times, and on what we can control and what we can do,” senior forward Syd Schultz said on the droughts.

Those were Morales’ first points since the second quarter, and the last time she scored in this one. She finished the game with just five points, her lowest amount since she scored just three in a game against Idaho State on Jan 21.

Much like Natabou’s play style, the Hornets absolutely handled the Vikings through the fourth, only allowing them to score nine points and none in the final 2:16.

Portland was still able to post their best defensive performance against Sac. State this season, limiting them to just 60 points, but the massive offensive dry spells are what spelled doom for them in this game. 

“… to hold Sac. to 60. I think that’s pretty good defense. As much as Natabou’s a great player, she went 23 and 11. Dean had 17, and then we were able to hold everyone else… so I’m proud of our defensive effort,” Gregg said.

Sacramento State will play the No. 1 Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks in the Big Sky Tournament championship game. NAU swept the season series with a 77-66 win in Flagstaff on Jan 14, and an 84-82 overtime victory at The Nest in Sacramento on Feb 9.

A positive of those games for Sac. State is that Natabou scored her season-high of 27 points in the second match-up.

The championship game with kick-off at 3:00 p.m. MST, and can be watched on ESPNU and ESPN+.