By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
Las Vegas in mid-December makes for a nice little vacation for the Pittsburg State basketball teams.
But don’t be fooled. It’s just as much of a business trip for the Gorillas.
Both the Pitt State men’s and women’s teams begin play today in the Las Vegas Challenge at Orleans Arena.
The Pitt State women face Academy of Art-San Francisco at 2 p.m. while the men face Arkansas-Fort Smith at 4:30 p.m.
Both teams face Dixie State (the host school) on Wednesday — the women tipping off at 6 p.m. and the men at 7:30.
The Gorilla women — ranked 18th nationally with the new rankings set to come out today — are coming off a much-needed 82-65 road win over MIAA foe Lindenwood. PSU had dropped two out of three before that.
“We’ve had times when we’ve shows signs of being a great basketball team, and we’ve had some times when we played poorly,” Pitt State women’s coach Lane Lord said. “We’re looking for that consistency.”
If the Gorillas want to leave Nevada with a pair of wins, Lord said the post game will have to be a factor — not just getting points down low, but getting the ball inside so the post players can kick it back out and set up shots for Pitt State’s 3-point shooters.
“I think we’re shooting 55 percent from 3 when we throw it down low first,” Lord said. “But we’re only shooting about 18 percent when we don’t. It seems simple to touch the paint and kick it back out, but you get in a game situation and sometimes we’re not patient enough.”
Lord said his team will have to be ready mentally when it faces Academy of Art today. The Urban Knights lead the nation in forced turnovers with their full-court pressure.
“It’s a ‘40 Minutes of Hell’ type game they have,” Lord said. “It’s like the old Arkansas teams. It will be a big test for us.”
Dixie State boasts a tall team and a four-game winning streak heading into the Classic. The Red Storm present Pitt State one final warmup before the Gorillas begin MIAA in earnest after splitting their two December league games.
“It sounds cliche, but we have to play tough defense and continue to go inside-out,” Lord said. “If we can do that and give ourselves a change to win these games, it will be a big confidence boost heading into the crazy MIAA schedule.”
The Pitt State men enter with a solid 7-1 record. The Gorillas’ lone loss came in an 89-79 setback to Newman on Nov. 20. That Newman team is still undefeated and has knocked off every Kansas MIAA school so far, including a convincing win over No. 2 Washburn on Saturday.
The Gorillas are off to a 2-0 MIAA start after a home win over Central Oklahoma and a double-overtime road win over Lindenwood.
Freshman Kaleb Porter enters the classic with a team-leading scoring average of 17.8 points per game. Courtney Ingram averages 12.8 while A.J. Adams adds 11. 5 per game.
Pitt State men’s coach Kevin Muff could not be reached on Monday night after the trip to Las Vegas.