When Claire Faucher's career ends at Portland State later this spring, she will undoubtedly go down as one of the best point guards in Big Sky Conference history. Faucher has recorded over 1000 points and 500 rebounds, is the all-time Big Sky Conference assist leader, and ranks No. 5 on the all-time steals list. But a funny thing happened to the Viking star on the way to rallying her team in the last couple of minutes of the PSU-Idaho State game Friday night: Andrea Videbeck (left).
With the Vikings down by seven and 1:34 to play, the 5-9 Faucher took the 5-4 Videback to the basket, looking for a hoop and possibly some harm to get PSU back into the game. Instead, Videbeck blocked Faucher's shot, got fouled on the other end of the floor and drained two free throws. A few seconds later, Faucher took the in-bounds pass, turned quickly upfloor and watched as Videbeck stripped her clean for a steal. Another foul, two more Videbeck free throws, game over.
That sequence was the best, but not the only, example of how Videbeck has simply taken control during the Bengals' current five-game winning streak that has lifted them into third place in the conference standings. During the three-game ISU home stand that began with an overtime win over Weber State a week ago and continued through wins over PSU and first-place Eastern Washington, Videbeck has averaged 18 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals.
The two-time transfer from Fresno State and Chandler-Gilbert JC scored 18 second-half and overtime points to rally the Bengals from 15 down against Weber State, drained 10 for 10 from the free throw line to hold off Portland State, then nailed four three-pointers to boost ISU to a quick start against the first-place Eagles. Other Bengals, most notably fellow senior Oana Iacovita, have contributed to ISU's hot streak, but nobody's made more money plays than the pride of Gilbert, Arizona.
And probably no player has been a bigger surprise in the Big Sky Conference this year. Coming off an illness-induced redshirt season which followed a junior campaign in which she averaged only 1.5 points and 2.6 assists per game, Videbeck was in a battle just for playing time at the beginning of this season. Indeed, true freshman Kaela Oakes got the starting call early in the year as Videbeck shook off the rust from her redshirt year. Videbeck has started only 19 of the Bengals' 27 contests so far this season.
But she is clearly in control now, ranking in the top 15 in seven different statistical categories during Big Sky play, including minutes (33 per game), scoring (seventh--14.7), assists (third--6.0), and steals (ninth--1.7). And she is absolute nails from the foul line late, hitting 40 of 44 free throw attempts in the final two minutes of games. Twice she has gone 10 for 10 from the line down the stretch to seal victories.
Videbeck hasn't been perfect, of course. Turnovers continue to be her bugaboo (she gave up eight against PSU and has two double-figure TO games this year -- against Montana and Sacramento State). She will get her biggest test of the year this Friday, when the Hornets come to town still with an opportunity to steal the Big Sky Conference regular season title. Sac is the quickest team in the league and their pressure drove Videbeck (a dozen turnovers) and the rest of the Bengals crazy in the Hornets' win earlier this year. But the way Andrea has continued to grow and respond to the pressure over the course of the season, I certainly wouldn't bet against her on senior night.
The race for the Big Sky Conference women's MVP is about as unpredictable as the league standings right now. Typically, the coaches honor the best player from the best team. But this year, Eastern Washington, who still has a game-and-a-half lead over Sac State for the regular season championship, would be hard-pressed to offer up a convincing MVP candidate. The Eagles are deep and talented, but as a result, they don't have any player who averages over 28 minutes a game. That has limited the stats for star Eagle players like Julie Piper, who is probably their best MVP candidate while ranking 15th in Big Sky scoring (12pg) and fifth in rebounding (8pg).
If Sac State should happen to sneak in the back door and win the league, I could see one of two Hornets winning the MVP honor: Emily Christensen, who ranks sixth in league scoring (15.4) and eighth in rebounding (7); or Charday Hunt (second in scoring, 19.6, 17th in rebounding--5.0).
Certainly the most impressive statistical season has been generated by Northern Arizona freshman Amy Patton, who will undoubtedly win newcomer of the year honors. She leads the Big Sky in scoring (21 ppg) and rebounding (9.7) in league games only. But the Axers are currently in eighth place and league coaches almost never give MVP honors to players for teams that don't make the post-season playoffs.
ISU's Iacovita could make a reasonable case for MVP honors, ranking fourth in the league in both scoring (16.6 in league games) and rebounding (8.3). At the very least, she'll be a first-team all-league selection.