Saturday, February 16, 2008

Big Sky @ The Stott Center

On television tonight is the NBA slam dunk contest, Indiana vs. Michigan State, #1 Memphis escaping against Alabama Birmingham and UNLV at BYU in a showdown for supremecy in the Mountain West Conference, and Oregon playing for it's NCAA tournament life against Washington State. My heart and tonight my radio is at the Peter W. Stott Center in Portland, Oregon.

I once spent six months of my life as an uninvited guest of the Portland State University athletic department. Had I been invited, I'm certain I would still be there.

The Peter W. Stott Center is the smallest division I arena I have ever seen. After an overhaul prior to the 2002 season capacity was increased to roughly 1500. Almost every 4A/5A high school arena is larger than the Peter W. Stott Center. This list includes Highland High School in Salt Lake City, Utah where Weber State forward Steve Panos played his high school basketball, it includes Prairie High School gymnasium in Vancouver, Washington where Dan Dickau once starred, it includes Oregon City High School in Portland, Oregon which currently is ranked in USA Today's top 10 high school teams in the west and it includes Evanston High School where Jaycee Carroll played. Kyle Whelliston's own website, the bible of midmajor internet college basketball, "Basketball State" lists Portland State's home arena as the Rose Garden, but this is not true. Portland State University plays at the Peter W. Stott Center. It should be proud to play at the Stott Center. The highest seat is 11 rows from court level! There are over 350 division I schools and somewhere there might be a smaller home arena, but I have not found it.

After years of struggling at the division I level in basketball Portland State University actually dropped it's program for an extended period before starting it up again in 1996. Portland State's most storied player is easily Freeman Williams who once score 81 points in a college basketball game. Williams is one of only three players to average over 30 points per game over at least a three year college career. Pete Maravich and Oscar Robertson are the other two. He is familiar to most Utah Jazz fans as the player who was acquired in exchange for Dominique Wilkins when the Jazz selected Wilkins in the 1982 draft.

Portland State's best season came three years ago when they won the Big Sky regular season championship, but lost in the Big Sky semifinals against Weber State. My favorite arena -The Stott Center- was deemed too small to host the conference tournament which the Vikings won the right to host and the tournament was moved to the Portland Memorial Coliseum. Unable to adjust to the cavernous surroundings, the Vikings lost in the Big Sky semifinal to Weber State. A year ago Portland State once again reached the Big Sky semifinals against Weber State, but narrowly lost on the Wildcats home court.

Portland State is once again making a run at the Big Sky championship and NCAA tournament in their 12th year since restarting the program in 1996. They own a 9-2 conference record this year and once again are trying to overcome Weber State which sits in second place at 7-4 at the Peter W. Stott Center. A win tonight will almost guarantee Portland State the right to host the Big Sky tournament in less than a month.

Portland State's best player this year has previously been introduced to readers of this site as 5'6" Jeremiah Dominguez who is averaging 14 points per game. Only at Portland State could a 5'6" player be the star player, it's the beauty of lower level division I college basketball.

There are numerous lead changes and ties. Late in the game Brody Van Brocklin and Delonte Huff exchange three pointers. Weber State's 5'6" point guard Kellen McCoy actually outplays his 5'6" Portland State counterpart Jeremiah Dominguez by scoring 19 points, but Dominguez hits a 10 footer and four free throws to put Portland State up 74-70. A late three pointer by Van Brocklin cuts the lead to a point, but it's not enough for Weber State. Portland State wins 76-73 and virtually clinches the right to "host" the Big Sky tournament.

I can only hope that "hosting" this time will mean playing at the Stott Center and not some cavernous Portland Trailblazer homecourt or former homecourt.

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