A school of roughly 3,000 undergrads (larger than recent Sweet 16 darling St. Mary's), Portland allows students like myself to interact with athletes in three different ways: in the classroom as fellow students, in the area and around campus as fellow 18-22 year olds. While certain types of bonds are formed in the heat of battle, other, more familial bonds are crafted in places like the Commons, UP's cafeteria, at 10 o'clock last Wednesday night.
Coming from a class with Ryan Nicholas, sophomore and big man who will not hesitate to attempt a superhoop, we met up with Eric Waterford, senior point guard. Over the course of an hour, we talked about the season but also our futures.
Though individual players might be in Marcia's Identity Moratorium state, the team is in Identity Foreclosure. Rather than trade twos for threes, Portland and its youth movement have opted to take fewer threes and attempt more fast-break passes thrown like footballs and dunks while jumping over defenders. The switch to a more up-tempo pace allowed players to make steals and be aggressive for rebounds but the youthful energy also lead to fouls at crucial moments and plenty of turnovers. Before taking my seat in the student section for what was at worst, a return game for last year's "Cougar Hardwood Classic," I wandered around the upper mezzanine and observed the new "Pavilion", stocked with flat-screen TVs, tuned mostly to the NBC affiliate for a more national broadcast.
The Athletic and Marketing Departments have tried to take advantage of the NBA lockout by offering discounted General Admission season tickets to "Pro Basketball Season Ticket Holders". As long as the "professionals" continue to argue over money and contract lengths, schools like Portland will take advantage of the fans hungry for local basketball and has the ad campaign to prove it. These efforts were shown more reminiscent of a NBA lineup, complete with a spotlight, and a Media Time out contest to determine who had the worst haircut, even though all three haircuts were similar.
The last Media Timeout gave us some homegrown entertainment. Quinn Hallinan son of an administrative assistant for the Athletic Department and Facebook Fan page subject, performed his normal routine to Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal," to the fascination of the first timers and to the delight of more experienced Pilot fans. For those minutes, all were fans of a 7-year-old who could dance, seen here in the black hat under the "O" in Portland.
This time, even though some fans may have wanted to visit two-foot tall beverage containers to drown their frustrations, this loss took place on a night reserved on doing what more responsible students might have done while some of these disappointed fans were talking around the aforementioned containers on Friday and Saturday night.
The Pilots have already headed South for a heaping serving of UC Santa Barbara Tuesday night and for a "guaranteed" desert, Kentucky, in Lexington on Saturday. For better or worse, Portland's next home game, against local foe Lewis and Clark from below the Black Line before playing St. Louis and Boise State.
Hopefully by the next time I see them, hosting Ohio on December 10th, the team will remain in Identity Foreclosure, solidified by experience against physical teams in larger arenas and maybe a few quality games that will pay dividends in March, even if part of the student body might be more concerned with what the New Year's Day plans are for the neighbors down in Eugene.
WASHINGTON STATE 83, at PORTLAND 73 11/20/2011
WASHINGTON STATE 2-1 (0-0) -- R. Moore 2-6 2-4 6; B. Motum 6-9 1-2 13; M. Capers 2-3 2-2 6; C. Enquist 2-2 4-5 8; F. Aden 7-14 6-7 21; D. Lacy 3-5 4-6 11; M. Ladd 3-8 1-1 8; D. Shelton 2-2 4-6 8; W. DiIorio 1-1 0-1 2. Totals 28-50 24-34 83. PORTLAND 2-2 (0-0) -- T. Douglas 2-4 4-5 8; N. Mitrovic 4-12 1-2 11; D. Rodgers 4-6 2-4 10; R. Nicholas 4-10 2-3 11; R. Barker 0-2 2-3 2; D. Carr 3-6 0-0 7; T. van der Mars 5-6 0-1 10; K. Bailey 2-9 9-10 14; D. Cason 0-3 0-0 0; T. Riley 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 24-60 20-28 73.
Three-point goals: WSU 3-9 (F. Aden 1-2; M. Ladd 1-4; D. Lacy 1-3), PORT 5-21 (N. Mitrovic 2-8; T. Riley 0-1; R. Nicholas 1-3; K. Bailey 1-3; D. Carr 1-4; D. Cason 0-2); Rebounds: WSU 28 (R. Moore 6), PORT 37 (R. Nicholas 7); Assists: WSU 16 (R. Moore 8), PORT 11 (T. Douglas 4); Total Fouls -- WSU 25, PORT 25; Fouled Out: WSU-R. Moore; PORT-None.