January 5, 2009

Eagles Host ISU Before Return of Rodney Stuckey on Sunday

Jan. 5, 2009

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After an offensive display that would have made even Rodney Stuckey proud, the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team returns home for a pair of games made even more appealing by the return of the former Eagle and current Detroit Pistons starting point guard.

Now 8-7 on the season and 2-1 in the Big Sky Conference after last Sunday's (Jan. 4) 87-74 victory at Sacramento State, the Eagles host Idaho State Thursday (Jan. 8) at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

Following Thursday's game, Eastern hosts Weber State on Sunday (Jan. 11) at 1:05 p.m., with Stuckey on hand to have his jersey retired at halftime of the game which will be televised live regionally by Altitude Sports and Entertainment. Tickets are available via ticketswest.com or 1-800-325-7328, with a $2 discount available for that game on adult tickets in the upper reserved section of Reese Court.

Stuckey, who is averaging 13.5 points and 5.1 assists per game for the Pistons, will also be available to the public after the game for a special autograph session. Stuckey will sign one item per person with fans provided a commemorative replica card of the banner that will hang at Reese Court.

Idaho State enters Thursday's game 1-0 in the Big Sky Conference following a 62-61 overtime win over Northern Colorado on Jan. 1. The Bengals lost at Boise State and Hawaii in overtime earlier this season and defeated Idaho 61-59 on Dec. 29. Eastern had the same results against those three teams, losing to Boise State (57-48) and Hawaii (75-55), but defeating Idaho (69-59).

Weber State, which plays at league-leader and defending champion Portland State on Thursday before taking on the Eagles, is 1-0 in the conference and 7-7 overall. The Wildcats also beat Northern Colorado in overtime 88-84 on Jan. 3, but have no common opponents with EWU yet this season.

The Eagles are now 3-6 on the road this season and 5-1 at home as they concluded a three-game, seven-day road trip with the victory over Sac State. Eastern opened the league season with a 61-55 victory over Montana State on Dec. 6, which represented EWU's last win over a NCAA Division I opponent until the victory over the Hornets.

"I don't think we've arrived by virtue of that win," said Earlywine of the victory over the Hornets in which EWU out-scored the Hornets in second-chance points (17-4) and points off turnovers (30-14). "We made steps in the right direction, but there are things we need to improve. At times we had our foot on their throat and we took it off. That's part of the learning process -- you have to squeeze an opponent's possessions when you have them on the ropes. We're not there yet in that regard, so we still have some things to work on."

Eastern made 47 percent of its shots against the Hornets, EWU's highest percentage since the UC Irvine game on Nov. 30. The Eagles had entered the Sac State game having made just 38 percent of their shots from the field in their previous three games, but could take solace in the fact they made only 38 percent against MSU and still prevailed.

Besides the shooting, the biggest difference for the Eagles was team the team's improved cohesiveness, according to head coach Kirk Earlywine. His team suffered a 72-49 loss at Northern Arizona just two days earlier, but nearly doubled its point output against Sac State. The Eagles led by as many as 15 in the first half and 19 in the second half.

"We had a couple of heart-to-hearts -- three of them in fact -- since the Northern Arizona game," Earlywine explained. "Our cohesiveness was addressed as much as anything else. That was something we needed to get back. The Sacramento State game was a step in the right direction and now we need to continue it."

Junior Benny Valentine, the Big Sky's leading scorer with a current 16.7 average per game, had a stellar game against Sacramento State with a season-high 33 points to go along with four assists and three steals. He came off the bench for only the third time this season and made 11-of-19 shots in his first scoring performance of more than 16 points in his last nine games.

Earlywine also had a heart-to-heart after the NAU game with Valentine, who redshirted last season after transferring from Texas Tech.

"I had a long talk with Benny about his shot selection and the percentage his is shooting," Earlywine explained. "I thought the best half of basketball we played this year was the first half against Idaho and Benny attempted only one shot. I wasn't liking how our shot distribution was going -- I thought we needed more shots for Milan Stanojevic, a couple of more shots per game for Mark Dunn and we needed more shots for Brandon Moore in the post. Very likely, Benny was going to have to cut his field goal attempts, and he had the right approach. He said, `coach, if you think that will help us win, I'll do it.' I felt that was what we needed to do to improve as a team."

Aside from a 90-point effort against Evergreen State, the previous four Eastern games had been punctuated by long scoring dry spells for EWU. Against Northern Arizona in a 72-49 road loss on Jan. 2, the Eagles went the final 7:57 without a field goal as they were out-scored 14-4 in that stretch. The Eagles went 9:11 without a point against Boise State, and on Dec. 20 versus Washington, Eastern had a stretch of 8:22 without a field goal and an additional 5:03 stretch without a point.

Before the Sac State victory, Eastern's last win was a 90-87 victory on Dec. 22 over Evergreen State, which entered the game 7-2 and was the 16th-ranked team in NAIA Division II. The Geoducks were coming off an 82-68 win over that division's No. 1 ranked team and defending national champion, Oregon Tech.

Eastern's 6-2 record after the first eight games was its best start since the 2002-03 season when EWU used a four-game winning streak to improve to 7-2. Eastern was unable to duplicate that 7-2 start by losing at Hawaii, but Eastern is still 1-0 in the Big Sky after a 66-51 victory against Montana State on Dec. 6 that represents the earliest Big Sky start in EWU history.

Eastern's Kirk Earlywine is in his second season at the helm after leading the Eagles to an 11-19 record overall and 6-10 Big Sky Conference mark last season. Season tickets, including several packages with selected games, are now on sale. Information is available at http://WWW.GOEAGS.COM.

Links:
Eastern Basketball -- http://goeags.cstv.com/sports/m-baskbl/ewas-m-baskbl-body.html
Big Sky Conference Basketball -- http://www.bigskyconf.com/sport.asp?path=mbball&tab=mens
NCAA Basketball -- http://www.ncaa.com/sports/m-baskbl/ncaa-m-baskbl-body.html
ESPN College Scoreboard -- http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/scoreboard
Rodney Stuckey NBA Page -- http://www.nba.com/playerfile/rodney_stuckey/index.html
More Information and Links are Available at: HTTP://WWW.GOEAGS.COM


-- Rodney Stuckey Returning to Eastern on Jan. 11 in Year He Would Have Been a Senior -- Consider it the Senior Day he was never able to receive.

Former Eastern Washington University men's basketball All-American and current Detroit Piston Rodney Stuckey will have his EWU jersey retired in ceremonies that will take place on Sunday, Jan. 11 at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

The event takes place in conjunction with Eastern's Big Sky Conference game against Weber State that starts at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time and will be televised live regionally on Altitude Sports and Entertainment. The Pistons play at Utah the night before, and don't play again until Charlotte visits Detroit on Jan. 13.

Tickets are available via ticketswest.com or 1-800-325-7328, with a $2 discount available for that game on adult tickets in the upper reserved section of Reese Court. Stuckey, who is averaging 13.5 points and 5.1 assists per game for the Pistons, will also be available to the public after the game for a special autograph session. Stuckey will sign one item per person with fans provided a commemorative replica card of the banner that will hang at Reese Court.

"I am very honored and humbled to have my EWU jersey retired," said Stuckey on Dec. 30. "I have so many wonderful memories from my college days and I'm thankful to the University, the fans, my coaches and my teammates."

Stuckey played his freshman and sophomore seasons at Eastern before becoming a first-round draft choice (15th overall) by the Pistons in the 2007 National Basketball Association draft. He became Detroit's full-time starter at point guard on Dec. 9, and on Dec. 23 had a breakthrough game with 40 points, four assists and four steals in a 104-98 victory over Chicago.

He had another huge game with 38 points and seven assists in a 98-92 victory over Sacramento on Jan. 2. The Pistons are 10-3 with a current seven-game winning streak since he became a starter and are 21-11 overall heading into Wednesday's (Jan. 7) game at Portland.

Considering that this would have been his senior season at EWU had he remained in college, it's appropriate that Stuckey is being honored in such a manner. He spent three years on the EWU campus and still has many friends in Cheney, including former high school teammate Aaron Boyce, who is an All-America wide receiver for the Eagle football team.

"It will be great to be back at Eastern where it all began," Stuckey added. "I know it will be a special day and I'm happy to share this experience with all the people who supported me throughout my college career."

Stuckey was an All-American at Eastern -- both athletically and academically -- after averaging 24 points per game in each of his two seasons (2005-06 and 2006-07). He helped EWU win 30 games in two seasons and had a 3.34 grade point average. A 2004 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., Stuckey was a NCAA non-qualifier and had to sit out the 2004-05 season at EWU.

"We've talked about honoring Rodney by retiring his jersey for some time now," said Eastern Athletic Director Bill Chaves. "What he accomplished here in two seasons and Detroit in two more is nothing short of phenomenal, and it's thrilling to watch his progress in the NBA. We're excited to have him back on campus to give him the recognition he deserved but didn't get because of how highly-regarded he was by the NBA."

Through 30 games this season (16 as a starter), the second-year pro is averaging 13.5 points, 5.1 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 28.7 minutes per game. In his 87-game career (18 as a starter), Stuckey is averaging 9.7 points, 3.6 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 22.3 minutes per game.

In his first four games as a full-time starter (including a three-game winning streak), he averaged a double-double -- 15.5 points and 10.0 assists. In his 40-point output against Chicago, Stuckey made 15-of-24 shots from the field with his outstanding driving and finishing ability. He also sank 9-of-11 free throws, and his passing has also been exceptional. Since taking over as a starter, he has averaged 6.4 assists in those 13 games to go along with a 19.2 scoring average.

Although several Eastern football players have been honored previously in such a manner -- including the retired No. 84 jersey of Bob Picard -- it's believed that no Eastern men's basketball player has had his jersey retired. Eastern's all-time leading basketball scorer (1,741) and rebounder (1,273) Ron Cox is another candidate after being drafted in the sixth round by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1977, but an injury kept him from playing a game in the NBA.

Cox was inducted into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998, and Stuckey will no doubt join him as a member as soon as soon as he's placed on the ballot. Another such professional is current Tennessee Titan offensive tackle Michael Roos, who is also a prime candidate to have his jersey retired in the near future. Roos recently became the first-ever Eastern football player to be selected to the Pro Bowl.

"Rodney and Michael have both had unprecedented success in the professional ranks for former Eastern student-athletes," said Chaves. "We are extremely proud of them both and greatly look forward to honoring Rodney on Jan. 11. The great talent he put on display for Eastern fans for two seasons is now being watched by a world-wide audience. It's truly exciting."

More on Stuckey may be found at:
http://www.nba.com/playerfile/rodney_stuckey/index.html

 

-- Valentine Nets 33 Versus Hornets to Strengthen Big Sky Scoring Lead -- Just when it looked like he would fall out of the Big Sky Conference scoring lead, 5-foot-7 point guard Benny Valentine recorded a season-high 33 against Sacramento State on Jan. 4. He leads the league with a 16.7 average, followed by Loren Leath from Sac State at 15.0.

The 5-foot-7 Valentine finished with his best scoring game of the season, and his first of more than 16 in nine games since getting 29 and 21 in back-to-back games in late November against Minnesota and UC Irvine, respectively. A transfer from Texas Tech who redshirted last season at EWU, Valentine made 11-of-19 shots from the field, 4-of-6 three-point attempts and 7-of-9 free throws to go along with four assists and three steals.

"He was very selective in the first half -- he took nine shots but I thought all nine of them were really good, open shots," said Earlywine after the Sac State game. "There will be some games where we need him to shoot more, but there are more games where we need him to run our team and get more shots for the other players who are shooting a high percentage. He needs to pick his spots, and tonight he did that."

Valentine saw his average drop from a high of 20.3 after the UC Irvine game on Nov. 30 to 15.5 heading into EWU's meeting with Sac State. In those previous eight games, the Texas Tech transfer had averaged 11.9 points while making just 36-of-113 shots for 32 percent and 14-of-46 three-pointers for 30 percent. He also had more turnovers (31) than assists (26) in those eight games. Nevertheless, he has led Eastern in nine games thus far and has scored in double figures in all but two games.

In a 75-55 loss at Hawaii, he had his first double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds to go along with a team-high five assists. However, he also had six turnovers against the Rainbow Warriors, and for the season is averaging 3.1 assists and 3.1 turnovers per game.

A redshirt at Eastern last season, Valentine was selected as the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week after leading the Eagles to three-straight NCAA Division I victories in a six-day stretch in November.

Valentine then scored 29 points against Minnesota on Nov. 26, and followed that with 21 in EWU's 78-64 victory over UC Irvine on Nov. 30. He followed that by scoring 15 at Portland in a 63-58 Eastern victory, including 12 in the second half and 10 of Eastern's last 11 points in the final 3:13. He made three of four shots from the floor and all four of his free throws in that stretch.

And in a 61-55 win over Montana State, Valentine scored 10 points in the first half and finished with 15 for the game to go along with four assists and three steals. He assisted on three-straight baskets in the second half to give EWU a four-point lead en route to a 33-22 scoring advantage in the second half.

"Benny trusted his teammates," said head coach Kirk Earlywine after the MSU win. "Sometimes when things aren't going as well as we would like it is easy for him to go off on his own, get shots for himself and try to score. He kept throwing the ball to the right spot. It's good for him to trust his teammates like that."

En route to winning Big Sky Player of the Week honors on Nov. 25, Valentine averaged 19.3 points, 3.3 assists and 1.0 steals in EWU's previous three games -- all victories over NCAA Division I opponents. He made 46.2 percent of his field goal attempts (18-of-39) and 68 percent of his free throws (19-of-28) as Eastern defeated UC Irvine (74-69), Texas Arlington (73-70) and Idaho (69-59).

He had 28 points and four assists versus UTA, a NCAA Tournament participant last year and the defending Southland Conference champion. Valentine is originally from Omaha, Neb., and is a 2005 graduate of Omaha Central High School.

"Against Texas Arlington and Minnesota we needed him to score for us," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "In other games, we've just needed him to run our team. But against UC Irvine (on Nov. 30) we needed him to do both within the same game. In the first half when we were struggling, we needed him to score and he did. In the second half, we needed him to run our team, get the ball inside and do the things that got us the 18-point lead, and he did that as well. It's very encouraging that he is gaining a feel and understanding for what our team needs at particular moments and be willing to do that."

The Eagles found out against Idaho how important it was to have Valentine on the floor. He scored 13 points and had four assists in 29 minutes versus the Vandals, nailing all four of his free throws in the last two minutes while playing with four fouls. Eastern led by as many as 21 in the second half versus the Vandals, who were able to rally without Valentine in the game and pulled to within six with 2:19 left. He took just one shot in the first half, but EWU led 41-23.

"Idaho is quick and athletic all over the floor," Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine said. "So whenever we took Benny out of the game, it certainly made things more difficult for us in terms of getting a good shot."

 

-- Moore Up to Three Double-Doubles for the Season -- Eastern 6-foot-9 junior center Brandon Moore had his third double-double of the year with 22 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high three assists in EWU's 90-87 win over Evergreen State on Dec. 22. Moore is from Graham, Wash., and is a 2005 graduate of Bethel High School.

Moore made 6-of-12 shots from the field and 10-of-13 free throws against the Geoducks, and seven of his rebounds came on the offensive end. The 6-foot-9 Moore came just one point from his career high of 23 points set as a freshman against Evergreen State. His assists tied his career high from that game.

Moore's other double-doubles this season came against Idaho (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Texas Arlington (16 points, 11 rebounds), giving him five in his career. He had a near-miss at Boise State on Dec. 29 when he finished with 12 points and nine boards. He also has seven double figure rebounding performances as an Eagle.

So far this season, Moore is averaging 10.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game to rank 19th and second, respectively, in the Big Sky Conference. In his 72-game career (32 as a starter), Moore has averaged 7.5 points and 5.2 rebounds while making just over 50 percent of his shots from the field.

 

-- Eagles Were an Early Leader in the Big Sky in Scoring Defense -- The Eagles currently rank second in the Big Sky Conference in scoring defense, allowing 69.7 per game (Montana leads at 67.8 per game).

Before holding Boise State to 57 points on Dec. 29, the Eagles had allowed an average of 78.3 in their previous four games to fall out of the Big Sky Conference lead in scoring defense. Through eight games -- and a 6-2 record -- the Eagles were allowing just 66.1 to lead the league.

In their seven losses this season, Eastern has allowed 72.7 points and 49.5 percent shooting. In their eight victories, those figures drop to 67.0 and 43.9. But recently, Eastern allowed 87 points in a win (Evergreen State) and just 57 in a loss (Boise State).

In its first six victories of the season, Eastern had allowed only 62.5 per game while holding opponents to 39.9 percent shooting from the field and 29.0 percent from the three-point stripe. But in their seventh win, a 90-87 triumph over Evergreen State, the Geoducks made 66 percent from both the field overall (35-of-53) and the three-point stripe (10-of-15). Eastern followed that by holding Boise State to 42 percent shooting overall (20-of-48) and 18 percent from the arc (2-of-11).

Ideally, Eastern would like to win with defense like it did in its league opener on Dec. 6. Eastern held Montana State to just 22 second-half points as the Bobcats made only 29 percent from the field after intermission. The result was Eastern's best defensive performance of the season by allowing MSU just 55 total points, eclipsing the 58 Eastern allowed one game earlier against Portland in a 63-58 win. The Pilots scored only nine points in the final 8:21, including a fairly meaningless basket with 16 seconds to play. But in the eight minutes prior to that, the Pilots were just 1-of-7 from the field with four turnovers.

"I know we're not going to shut anybody out -- I tell our players that all the time," said Earlywine. "But we need to make teams earn their points. For the most part against Portland, we did not give them points -- they had to earn them."

 

-- DeLeon and Busch Finally Cleared to Play -- The 75-55 Hawaii loss on Dec. 13 marked the season debuts for returning 12-game starter Adris DeLeon and junior college transfer Chris Busch. Both missed the first eight games of the season before being officially cleared to play on Dec. 12 after final exams from fall quarter were completed and grades submitted.

So far this season, DeLeon has averaged 5.5 points in an average of 14.3 minutes per game. He made his first start of the season against Sacramento State on Jan. 4 and responded with 17 points and three assists. Busch, who scored a team-high 13 at Washington on Dec. 20, is averaging 5.6 points and 2.4 rebounds in 17.6 minutes per game. Busch is a transfer from Merritt Junior College in California while DeLeon averaged 12.5 points and 3.1 assists in 27 games last year for EWU.

 

-- Eagles Win Three on Road, Five at Home -- The schedule, with just one occurrence of back-to-back road games until the start of league play, has started well for the Eagles. Eastern picked up road wins at UC Irvine, Portland and Sacramento State, and has won five of six games at Reese Court.

Last year, Eastern had only two home games in its first 11 outings of the season. As a result, Eastern was just 3-8 to start the season before going 8-9 in their next 17 games. The Eagles ended the season with a pair of road losses and finished the season 8-5 at Reese Court and 3-14 away from home.

"I like looking at this schedule more than the one we had last year," said Earlywine. "I like the balance of home games versus road games, and I like the fact we aren't playing more than two consecutive road games."

 

-- Eagles Picked to Finish as High as Seventh -- The Eastern Washington University men's basketball program has been picked to finish as high as seventh in the Big Sky Conference in preseason polls released Oct. 22 by the Big Sky Conference.

The league's head coaches selected EWU seventh, while the media picked EWU to finish eighth in the nine-team league. Last year, the Eagles finished 11-19 overall and seventh in the league with a 6-10 mark under first-year head coach Kirk Earlywine.

The Eagles had only three players with NCAA Division I experience on their roster last year and a total of just eight players who participated in at least 15 games. This season, Eastern has a full roster of 14 players that include six returning letter winners. Returning starters are center Brandon Moore and guards Trey Gross and Gary Gibson.

 

-- Pre-Season Losses Lead to Big Sky Conference Wins -- In the last nine seasons (including the 2007-08 season), Eastern has entered Big Sky Conference play with a collective 45-67 (.401) record. Those difficult schedules have yielded an 81-53 (.604) Big Sky Conference record in that span. Eastern has finished third or better in the Big Sky regular season standings in six of the last nine years en route to a pair of regular season Big Sky titles, one Big Sky Tournament title and three-runner-up tourney finishes.

In 2007-08, Eastern entered conference play 5-8, which compares favorably to the previous eight seasons (most recent are listed first) -- 6-6, 5-8, 3-10, 4-9, 8-6, 6-8, 5-5, 3-7. One of Eastern's worst pre-conference records was in 2003-04 (4-9), yet resulted in an 11-3 league mark, Big Sky regular season and tourney titles and the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. In the 1999-2000 season -- EWU's final season under former head coach Steve Aggers -- the Eagles were just 3-7 before sharing the Big Sky Conference regular season title with Montana as they both finished 12-4 in conference play.

 

 

SERIES HISTORY

-- EWU-Idaho State Series History (Since 1983-84) -- Eastern has won 17 of the past 24 meetings against the Bengals, including sweeps in the 2001-02, 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons. Idaho State swept the Eagles in the regular season in 2002-03, but Eastern won the third meeting by a 76-67 score in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Last year, Eastern lost 58-56 in Pocatello before rebounding for a 63-53 home win.

Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 28-24 against the Bengals, including a 19-7 record in Cheney and 8-16 mark in Pocatello (1-1 on neutral courts). Eastern lost eight-straight games to ISU from 1993 to 1997, and leads in the all-time series 31-25 (21-6 in Cheney, 9-18 in Pocatello, 1-1 neutral).

 

-- EWU-Weber State Series History (Since 1983-84) -- Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 19-32 against Weber State (19-33 all-time). The Eagles are 14-10 in Cheney, 3-22 in Ogden and 2-0 on neutral courts versus the Wildcats since 1983-84 (3-23 in Ogden all-time). Eastern's lone victories in Ogden came in 2005 (76-73), 2001 (81-70) and 2000 (90-78) when Eastern snapped the Wildcats' 30-game home winning streak, which at the time was the fourth longest in NCAA Division I.

The Eagles have won 13 of the last 27 meetings after losing nine-straight from 1992-1996. Eastern has defeated the Wildcats three times in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament (72-53 in 2004, 62-57 in 2002 and 83-67 in 1990). Last year, Eastern lost in Ogden 74-64 before winning in Cheney 69-57.

 

 

Kirk Earlywine COMMENTS

-- On Areas That Need Work After MSU Win -- "We're still very, very sloppy and not anywhere near where we need to be in terms of execution of running our sets and how we are managing the shot clock late in possessions. That was evident against Montana State. Defensively, we missed a couple of switches (against MSU) and we were very fortunate because we gave a couple of their very good shooters open looks from the arc that they didn't knock down."

-- On 31-6 Run Against UC Irvine After Falling Behind 18-8 on Nov. 30 -- "Those 10 or 12 minutes where we were playing really well were preceded by eight or nine when we were playing really bad, so I guess it evens out. I don't know why we made the mistakes we made early in the game to allow them to make so many three-point shots. They were just inexcusable in my eyes and we have to eliminate things like that in order for us to be good."

-- On Eagle Newcomers Against UC Irvine on Nov. 30 -- "I was really pleased with Andy Genao and Jeff Christensen. We received 28 points, 11 rebounds and only two turnovers out of those two players. They have continued to play very well and are staying within their roles in what we've asked them to do. That is encouraging. Mark Dunn continues to be very solid for us. He's not going to win any beauty contests, but he continues to do what we need him to do to help us win games."

-- On Contributions from 2007-08 Redshirts Benny Valentine, Andy Genao and Jeff Christensen -- "It's been critical and vital. Last year, we opened the season with only three players with NCAA Division I experience. And none of them had played a game for me. This year we have players that have been through it and those redshirts who also have a year in our system. They know what we want and how we want it. It's a big factor, and those players are older as well. Jeff and Andy are both fifth-year seniors and Benny is a fourth-year junior. They aren't as prone to the peaks and valleys of a college season as much as younger players might be. They understand how to stay the course so you don't have those inconsistent swings in play."

-- On Continuing to Improve -- "We played very, very well at UC Irvine -- we rebounded well and we guarded well. But our block out and our conversion defense slipped noticeably in the next game. I told our players that a sign of a good team and a mature team is that when areas that are identified as needing to be improved or corrected, those things are improved and corrected immediately."

-- On Whether Playing Games With Just One Day of Preparation Time Helps During Conference Play -- "You can make that case, but I would rather not have that right now. There are things we see in games that we need practice time to work on live and at full speed, but we just simply can't with one day between games. At this time of the year, playing games with just one day of preparation is not a good thing. But there is some benefit because you will in conference play when you have to play Thursday and Saturday. Hopefully by that time we won't have major things that need to be worked on or fixed -- just minor tinkering."

-- On Winning Against Experienced Texas Arlington -- "They made a terrific run late in the season in the NCAA Tournament, and they have guys who have been through big games and close games. It showed in their poise and they seemed to keep their focus. They made big shots and they had no panic in their eyes. That is a good basketball team and a good win for us."

 

  

OTHER NOTES

-- Eagles Register First League Win on Dec. 6 -- Eastern opened Big Sky Conference play on Dec. 6 with a 61-55 victory over Montana State The league opener came less than a month into the 2008-09 campaign, and was the earliest start to the Big Sky schedule in EWU history. Benny Valentine finished with 15 points, four assists and three steals in the win over the Bobcats.

With the victory over MSU, the Eagles were in first place in the league for nearly a month.

"I will caution our players that we were 1-0 last year in the conference as well and ended up not playing in the conference tournament," said head coach Kirk Earlywine after the MSU win. "So while it's a good start and it certainly beats the alternative of being 0-1, there is still a long ways to go."

 

-- More on Eastern's Hot Start -- Eastern's 6-2 start to the 2008-09 season was a complete turnaround from last year when the Eagles were 2-6 after eight games and had been out-scored by an average of more than 12 points per game. Eastern didn't win its sixth game of the season until Dec. 22.

This season, EWU won its sixth game on Dec. 6 against Montana State. Through eight games, the Eagles had a 535-529 scoring advantage despite losing to a pair of Big Ten Conference foes by a combined 37 points. Eastern out-rebounded opponents by one per game, and had averaged just 12.5 turnovers per game.

As a result, Eastern won all four of its games decided by six points or fewer, and its victories came by margins of three, five, five, six, 10 and 12. Last season, Eastern was 3-6 in games decided by five points or less, with all six setbacks coming during conference play.

"The combination of us defending fairly well and limiting our turnovers have been the two things in particular (that have helped win close games)," explained Earlywine after the MSU win. "Our offensive rebounding hasn't been overwhelming, but we seem to get them at the right time. Those three things have allowed us to win games, but our statistics as a whole makes you wonder how are we winning those. But it's been timely, clutch plays, and somebody seems to make a basket at the right time. Andy Genao came up with three buckets, including two tough baskets, in the last 2:35 against Montana State. Maybe the stars are aligned right now because we are finding ways to win tough games."

The last time Eastern was 6-2 to start a season came in came in 2002-03 when that squad began the year 3-2 and stretched it to 7-2 with a four-game winning streak. That year the Eagles lost to Weber State 60-57 in the Big Sky Tournament championship game with a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line. Current Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine was an assistant coach that season for the Wildcats, who were 14-0 in the league and 26-6 overall.

 

-- Four-Game Grind Ends With 3-1 Mark -- Eastern closed a stretch of four games in eight nights with an 88-67 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 26. In the first three games of its four-game grind, Eastern defeated UC Irvine (74-69), Texas Arlington (73-70) and Idaho (69-59). The win over Texas Arlington was particularly impressive because the Mavericks were a NCAA Tournament participant last year and are the defending Southland Conference champions.

"It seemed like those were the types of games that slipped away from us a year ago," said Earlywine, particularly of his team's narrow victories over the Anteaters and Mavericks. "I don't know if that means we are improved or the basketball gods are smiling on us at the moment. I know we are better at this point than we were a year ago at this time. How much I don't know yet.

"Having a guard out there in Benny Valentine that can make plays and handle the ball against pressure certainly helps you in those late-game situations," added Earlywine. "Those are very good wins for us and are a sign that we're advancing and becoming better as a program."

Eastern opened its season with a 66-50 loss on Nov. 14 at Illinois of the Big Ten Conference in a game that was tied at 35 at halftime. However, Eastern went 8:05 without a field goal during a 15-1 Illinois run in the second half to spoil a combined 27-point outing for new Valentine and returning 6-9 center Brandon Moore.

 

-- Eagles Versus the Big Ten Conference -- Eastern is now 0-6 all-time versus the Big Ten Conference. Before this season, the last meeting against the league took place last November against Michigan in a 61-53 loss.

11/26/08 - L - Minnesota - 67-88 - A

11/14/08 - L - Illinois - 50-66 - A

11/23/07 - L - Michigan - 53-61 - ~

12/5/03 - L - Iowa - 54-70 - #

11/15/02 - L - Wisconsin - 55-81 - $

12/28/01 - L - Indiana - 60-87 - %

11/24/01 - L - Minnesota - 68-86 - A

11/25/00 - L - Michigan State - 61-83 - &

~Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska

#Gazette Hawkeye Challenge in Iowa City, Iowa

$NABC Classic in Madison, Wisc.

%Ameritech Hoosier Classic in Indianapolis, Ind.

&Spartan Classic in Lansing, Mich.

A -- Away

 

-- Eagles Versus Ranked Teams -- This may be the first time since the 2002-03 season that Eastern has not played a nationally-ranked team. The Eagles have played 12 such games in the five seasons since then.

Eastern is 1-14 versus nationally-ranked teams -- including three games in the 2004-05 season alone as well as three the year before. Seven of the 13 games came under former head coach Mike Burns and five others came under Ray Giacoletti from 2000-2004.

12/5/07 vs. #3 Kansas - L, 47-85

11/9/07 vs. #10 Washington State - L, 41-68

12/15/06 vs. #22 Oregon - L, 74-100

11/24/06 vs. #16 Washington - L, 83-90

12/19/05 vs. #8 Gonzaga - L, 65-75

12/16/05 vs. #11 Washington - L, 74-91

12/28/04 vs. #14 Arizona - L, 45-79

12/21/04 vs. #13 Gonzaga - L, 70-83

12/5/04 vs. #14 Washington - L, 56-89

3/19/04 vs. #3 Oklahoma State - L, 56-75

12/31/03 vs. #16 Gonzaga - L, 49-70

11/21/03 vs. #14 Oklahoma - L, 59-69

11/15/01 vs. #10 St. Joseph's - W, 68-67

11/25/00 vs. #4 Michigan State - L, 61-83

1/21/85 vs. #10 DePaul - L, 50-72

 

-- Big Crowds -- The Eagles played in front of 14,422 fans at Illinois on Nov. 14, which is the sixth-largest crowd EWU has ever played against. A crowd of 11,977 were on hand on Nov. 26 when EWU played at Minnesota. Those were the 19th and 20th times since the 2000-01 season that Eastern has played in front of crowds in excess of 10,000 fans. Unfortunately, Eastern has failed to win in all 20 of those games.

Eastern's first two games of the 2007-08 season drew crowds of 10,216 (at Washington State) and 12,016 (at New Mexico), Later in the year on Dec. 12, Eastern lost to Kansas at legendary Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan.

In the 2006 season, the Eagles played in front of 10,000 at Washington after the previous two games there drew 9,876 (2005) and 9,418 (2004). In the 2004-05 season, Eastern played in front of a crowd of 14,535 fans at Arizona, 10,216 at Wichita State and 12,000 against Gonzaga. Three of the 10,000+ crowds also came in the 2003-04 season. Several other games have been played in the first game of pre-season tournaments that have drawn at least that many fans, but the Eagles haven't faced the host team.

Here is a list of those crowds:

16,840 - 3/19/04 vs. Oklahoma State - L, 56-75

16,374 - 11/15/02 vs. Wisconsin - L, 55-81

16,300 - 12/5/07 vs. Kansas - L, 47-85

14,759 - 11/25/00 vs. Michigan State - L, 61-83

14,535 - 12/28/04 vs. Arizona - L, 45-79

14,422 - 11/14/08 vs. Illinois - L, 50-66

12,533 - 11/24/01 vs. Minnesota - L, 68-86

12,299 - 12/31/03 vs. Gonzaga - L, 49-70

12,016 - 11/12/06 vs. New Mexico - L, 57-92

12,000 - 12/21/04 vs. Gonzaga - L, 70-83

11,977 - 11/26/08 vs. Minnesota - L, 67-88

11,879 - 12/19/05 vs. Gonzaga - L, 65-75

11,268 - 11/21/03 vs. Oklahoma - L, 59-69

11,031 - 12/5/03 vs. Iowa - L, 54-70

11,000 - 12/22/02 vs. Gonzaga - L, 64-67

10,432 - 12/28/01 vs. Indiana - L, 60-87

10,216 - 11/20/04 vs. Wichita State - L, 62-80

10,215 - 11/9/06 vs. Washington State - L, 41-68

10,210 - 3/12/03 vs. Weber State - L, 57-60

10,000 - 11/24/06 vs. Washington - L, 83-90

 

-- Schedule Tough, but More Manageable in 2008-09 -- Eastern's 2008-09 schedule is once again difficult, with road games scheduled against the likes of Illinois, Minnesota, Hawaii, Washington and Boise State. However, back-to-back road games are rare.

"It's a challenging schedule, but it's a little more playable than a year ago in terms of the balance of home games versus away games," explained Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "We don't get stuck on the road too long."

In all, Eastern has six non-conference home games and seven on the road. Eastern opens the season at Illinois and UC Irvine, but after that, only during the league season does Eastern play back-to-back road games again. Last year, Eastern had only two home games in its first 11 outings of the season.

As a result, Eastern was just 3-8 to start the season before going 8-9 in their next 17 games. The Eagles ended the season with a pair of road losses and finished the season 8-5 at Reese Court and 3-14 away from home.

"I like looking at this schedule more than the one we had last year," said Earlywine. "I like the balance of home games versus road games, and I like the fact we aren't playing more than two consecutive road games."

Last season, Eastern played a trio of NCAA Tournament teams (Kansas, Washington State and Portland State), and this year the same is true. Texas-Arlington, which lost to Memphis 87-63 in the first round, plays at EWU on Nov. 22. Boise State, a 79-61 loser to Louisville, hosts the Eagles on Dec. 29 and is scheduled to play at Eastern the following season.

The Eagles will play Big Sky Conference rival Portland State on Jan. 24 before hosting the Vikings in Cheney, Wash., on Feb. 28. Last season, Eastern lost at Kansas 85-47 and PSU fell to the eventual national champions 85-61 in the NCAA Tournament.

"We have some games against the power conferences that our guys are really excited about," said Earlywine of the schedule. Besides games against the Big 10, Pacific 10 and Western Athletic Conference, Eastern plays a home-and-home series against UC Irvine, a team from the Big West Conference which won seven of its last nine games of the 2007-08 season.

League play - believe it or not - starts just seven games into the season with a home game versus Montana State on Dec. 6. A nine-team league and the participation of some teams in the ESPN Bracketbusters in February, necessitates the early start.

"I'm definitely not in favor of playing conference games the third week of the season," said Earlywine. "But one good thing is that it's a conference game on a Saturday at home with our students here. We did not have too many of those last year. We hope we will have a heckuva crowd with our students right before final exams with the Bobcats coming to town."

Earlywine expects Portland State to be the early favorite to repeat as league champions. The past two seasons there have been six first-year coaches in the league, and Earlywine thinks those two years of building programs by those schools will payoff this season.

"The word out there is that everybody thinks the Big Sky is going to be very, very good. I would agree," he said. "Portland State and Montana are loaded, and you can never count out Northern Arizona - Mike Adras keeps doing it year-after-year. And I think Idaho State has a chance to make a huge jump. The league is going to be good."

 

-- EWU in Exhibitions -- Until falling 58-56 to Carroll College on Nov. 1, Eastern had won its last 12 exhibition games, which are contests that do not count in EWU's season record or statistics. It's last exhibition loss came on Nov. 13, 1999, to the Northwest Basketball Camp (NBC) Thunder. In that 73-71 loss, former Pepperdine player Shann Ferch made a three-point play with 19 seconds to lift NBC to the win. Here is a list of recent exhibition games:

11/8/08 - Puget Sound - W, 90-66

11/1/08 - Carroll - L, 56-58

11/3/07 - Pacific - W, 91-49

11/4/06 - Northwest Nazarene - W, 98-55

11/13/05 - UC-San Diego - W, 75-44

11/13/04 - Central Washington - W, 79-63

11/12/03 - Ukraine Touring Team - W, 83-55

11/7/03 - Northwest Sports - W, 100-79

11/7/02 - Northwest Basketball Camp (NBC) Thunder - W, 99-72

11/1/02 - Northwest Sports - W, 117-73

11/2/01 - NBC Thunder - W, 108-106

10/10/01 - Alumni - W, 94-85

11/14/00 - SON Blue Angels - W, 90-78

11/4/00 - NBC Thunder - W, 72-63

11/13/99 - NBC Thunder - L, 71-73

11/5/99 - The Hoop USA - W, 106-64

 

-- Three Eagles Miss Carroll Game -- Of the three Eagles who missed Eastern's exhibition opener against Carroll College, returning center Brandon Moore had a knee injury and returned to play 14 minutes against Puget Sound. Forward Chris Busch and guard Adris DeLeon were not cleared to play.

The absence of those three players made it difficult for Earlywine to get a good feel for his team and how the team's five newcomers blend with six returning letter winners and three returning redshirts in game situations.

"It was hard because there are some questions I have about this year's team that we needed the exhibition games and early-season games to answer in terms of combinations in our lineup, minutes and so forth," explained Earlywine. "I couldn't get any of those questions answered against Carroll.

"I didn't see as much personnel as I would have liked, and obviously I was disappointed but not discouraged at all," he added. "I knew that when we scheduled Carroll that they would come in and be competitive and would compete. I didn't want to schedule somebody that we were going to beat by 20, 25, or 30 points and not get anything out of the game.

 

-- Earlywine Sees Carroll Loss as Learning Opportunity -- Earlywine wasn't as concerned about the loss to Carroll as he was with the learning opportunities.

"Like I told our guys, that loss will be long forgotten and meaningless in March if we can use the things that we learned from that loss to get better and improve," he said. "We need to keep taking steps in the direction we need to go.

"I also told our players that Ohio State (by Findlay) and Michigan State (by Grand Valley State) were defeated by non-Division I teams last year," Earlywine added. "It's not the end of the world. What we do from here to improve is much more important than the final score in an exhibition game."

 

-- Positives from Carroll Game -- Returning starter Trey Gross scored 17 to lead the Eagles against Carroll, and returning guard Milan Stanojevic chipped in 11. Six-foot-8 Mark Dunn added seven points and 10 rebounds, and Gary Gibson had six points, three steals and three assists -- all in the second half as he fueled EWU's comeback from a 19-point deficit.

"Certainly, Mark Dunn's play was a positive," Earlywine said. "Double-digit rebounds for him was a pleasant surprise. His conditioning continues to get a little better and a little better and his play was very encouraging. He certainly played more minutes against Carroll than he would have if Brandon had been healthy.

"I also thought Gary Gibson's play in the second half was a positive," he added. "But those two things were really about the extent of the good news from the Carroll game."

 

-- Practice Time a Premium for Eagles -- One of Kirk Earlywine's early-season concerns in preparing for a mid-November opener is the lack of practice time prior to that opener after practices began on the late date of Oct. 17.

"I think more than anything else, the five fewer days of practice this year makes it difficult," he explained. "This year it was the nature of the calendar -- we start practice on the Friday nearest to October 15th. A year ago that was October 12th and this year it was on October 17th. So we lost five days of practice this year.

"I think as you establish a program and have more returning guys in your program, that's probably a little easier to overcome," he said. "But it's not enough time when you have new players and are trying to establish a program. We were nowhere near to being ready to play a full game against Carroll -- we hadn't even scrimmaged or had referees in our gym yet. We certainly looked like it."

 

-- Moore Impressive in Last Eight Games of 2007-08 Season-- Sophomore Brandon Moore averaged 11.3 points and 7.6 rebounds on 53.1 percent shooting in the last eight games of the 2007-08 season. He closed the season with seven points and 12 rebounds in a loss at Portland State, but in his previous game at Northern Colorado he played just 22 minutes because of early foul trouble and finished with only two points and one rebound.

The 6-foot-9 Moore helped lead the Eagles to a crucial home sweep over Weber State (69-57) and Idaho State (63-53) in mid-February as he scored 35 points and had 14 rebounds. He made 14-of-20 shots in the two games and added two blocked shots and two steals. Six of his rebounds were on the offensive end, including four offensive boards versus Weber State.

 

-- More on the Big Sky Conference Polls -- Ken Bone's Portland State Vikings have been selected by the coaches and the media to capture the 2008-09 Big Sky Conference men's basketball title in preseason polls released Oct. 22. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.

Portland State, which finished 23-10 in 2007-08, earned seven first-place votes from the coaches and 63 total points. The Vikings earned 23 of 26 first-place votes from the media and 230 total points.

Portland State won the regular-season title in 2007-08, finishing 14-2 in conference. The Vikings won their first ever postseason championship, downing Northern Arizona 67-51 in the championship game. Portland State's season came to an end with a loss to eventual national champion Kansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Vikings return Big Sky MVP Jeremiah Dominguez, a senior guard from Salem, Ore. Dominguez averaged 14.2 points and four assists per game. The Vikings are expected to be bolstered by Phil Nelson (Washington), Dominic Waters (Hawai'i) and Jamie Jones (Portland), who all sat out last season after transferring from Division I institutions.

The University of Montana was selected second in both polls. The Grizzlies earned two first-place votes from the coaches and 56 total points. Montana also earned two first-place votes from the media and 180 total points. Wayne Tinkle's Grizzlies finished the 2007-08 season 14-16, losing in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Championship. The Grizzlies will be led by senior forward Jordan Hasquet, and junior guard Ryan Staudacher. Montana will also benefit from the addition of Division I transfers Jack McGillis (Oregon State) and Michael Taylor (Eastern Washington).

Joe O'Brien's Idaho State Bengals were selected third in both polls. The Bengals received one first-place vote from the media, and 169 total points. In the coaches' poll, the Bengals earned 49 total points. Idaho State returns four starters from a team that finished 8-8 in conference play last season, including senior guard Matt Stucki and junior guard Amorrow Morgan. The Bengals returned seven of the top eight scorers from last year's squad.

Northern Arizona, which has advanced to the Big Sky Championship game three consecutive years, was picked fourth by the coaches and fifth by the media. Weber State, which claimed the 2006-07 championship, was tabbed fourth by the media and fifth by the coaches. Northern Arizona will be led by senior guard Josh Wilson, who ranks fifth on the Big Sky's career assists list with 551. Weber State will be led by senior forward Daviin Davis and senior guard Kellen McCoy.

Northern Colorado, entering its third year of league play, was picked sixth in both polls. Tad Boyle's Bears return four starters and nine lettermen from the 2007-08 team, which won 13 overall games. Leading the way is senior forward Jabril Banks, who averaged 13.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior.

Rounding out the polls were Eastern Washington, Montana State and Sacramento State. EWU was picked seventh by the coaches and eighth by the media. Montana State was picked seventh by the media and eighth by the coaches. Sacramento State, which enters the season with new coach Brian Katz, was selected ninth in both polls.

Weber State will be the first team to play this season, opening against Miami, Ohio, on Wednesday, Nov. 12 in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Westwood, Calif. Six other Big Sky teams open play on Friday, Nov. 14.

The Big Sky Championship begins with quarterfinal games on Saturday, March 7. The semifinals and championship will be played on Tuesday, March 10, and Wednesday, March 11 at the home of the regular-season champion.

The semifinal games will be televised on Altitude Sports & Entertainment. The championship game will be shown live on ESPN2.

Coaches Poll

Team (First-place votes) - Total Points

1. Portland State (7) - 63

2. Montana (2) 56

3. Idaho State - 49

4. Northern Arizona - 41

5. Weber State - 34

6. Northern Colorado - 29

7. Eastern Washington - 22

8. Montana State - 14

9. Sacramento State 10

Media Poll

Team (First-place votes) - Total Points

1. Portland State (23) - 230

2. Montana (2) 180

3. Idaho State (1) - 169

4. Weber State 165

5. Northern Arizona - 153

6. Northern Colorado - 104

7. Montana State - 76

8. Eastern Washington - 64

9. Sacramento State - 38

 

-- Eastern Just The Fifth BSC School to Make Nine-Straight Tournament Appearances -- Although its streak came to an end in the 2006-07 season, Eastern is just the fifth school in league history to make nine-straight appearances in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Eastern started the streak back in 1998 after making just one trip to the tourney in their first 10 seasons as a member of the conference.

Weber State had its string of 24-straight appearances stopped in 2005-06, and Montana had a string of 21-straight from 1978-98. The other streaks were 16 by Idaho (1981-96) and 11 by Nevada (1982-92). Two years ago, Eastern equaled the streak of eight by Northern Arizona (1997-04).

Interestingly, Montana's 77-69 victory over the Lumberjacks on Feb. 28, 2005, extended Eastern's streak and ended NAU's. Eastern's streak started in 1998 with an end-of-year victory at Montana. That "winner advance, loser eliminated" game ended Montana's 21-year streak.

Eastern is now 7-9 in 10 appearances in the league tournament. Eastern ended its season with losses to Montana in both 2005 and 2006, but the year before won the title with a 71-59 championship game victory over Northern Arizona.

Here is a list of Eastern's appearances in the Big Sky Tournament.

2006 - Semifinal (Flagstaff, Ariz.) - #3 seed vs. #2 Montana - L, 71-73 (ot)

2006 - Quarterfinal (Cheney, Wash.) - #3 seed vs. #6 Portland State - W, 81-75

2005 - Quarterfinal (Missoula, Mont.) - #6 seed vs. #3 Montana - L, 48-58

2004 - Championship (Cheney, Wash.) - #1 seed vs. #2 Northern Ariz. - W, 71-59

2004 - Semifinals (Cheney, Wash.) - #1 seed vs. #5 Weber State - W, 72-53

2003 - Championship (Ogden, Utah) - #2 seed vs. #1 Weber State - L, 57-60

2003 - Semifinals (Ogden, Utah) - #2 seed vs. #4 Idaho State - W, 76-67

2002 - Championship (Bozeman, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #5 Montana - L, 66-70

2002 - Semifinals (Bozeman, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #3 Weber State - W, 62-57

2001 - Championship (Northridge, Calif.) - #2 seed vs. #1 CS Northridge - L, 58-73

2001 - Semifinals (Northridge, Calif.) - #2 seed vs. #5 Northern Arizona - W, 58-53

2000 - Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #3 Northern Arizona - L, 65-82

1999 - Quarterfinals (Ogden, Utah) - #6 seed vs. #3 Portland State - L, 74-80

1998 - Quarterfinals (Flagstaff, Ariz.) - #3 seed vs. #6 CS Northridge - L, 98-104 (ot)

1990 - Championship (Boise, Idaho) - #2 seed vs. #1 Idaho - L, 62-65

1990 - Semifinals (Boise, Idaho) - #2 seed vs. #5 Weber State - W, 83-67

 

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