Eastern Plays at Idaho State and Portland State

Jan. 8, 2007

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In the Big Sky Conference, it seems, all teams are created equal. That's what makes this week's road trip as scary as the first for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.

Currently an even 2-2 in the Big Sky Conference and 8-8 overall, EWU plays Thursday (Jan. 11) in Pocatello, Idaho, against Idaho State before playing at Portland State on Saturday (Jan. 13). Thursday's game starts at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time and Saturday's begins at 1:05 p.m.

The Eagles are in the midst of a stretch in which eight of 10 games are on the road. After hosting Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado on Jan. 18 and 20, respectively, Eastern returns to the road for four-straight games. Eastern's final four conference games are at home at Reese Court in February, sandwiched around a non-conference road game as part of the ESPN Bracket Buster weekend.

The Bengals, under first-year head coach Joe O'Brien, are leading the league at 2-0, followed by Weber State and Northern Arizona at 3-1. Three teams, including Eastern and Portland State, are 2-2.

After getting a week off to observe the other eight league teams in action just before Christmas, ISU jumped into conference play last week and registered huge road wins at Weber State (58-55) and Sacramento State (73-58).

Utilizing a zone defense to help slow the pace of games, Idaho State is holding opponents to 66.1 points per game. Weber State and Sac State combined to make just 17-of-62 three-point attempts (27 percent) and 37 percent overall from the field last week against the Bengals.

By contrast, Eastern leads the league and ranks fifth nationally with an average of 86.4 per game and is coming off a 109-101 loss at NAU last week. Eastern has scored at least 100 on three occasions this season and has allowed more than 100 four times.

"We knew our game against NAU would be in the 90's or 100's because Northern Arizona wants to play fast and we want to play fast," said Burns. "Thursday is going to be kind of a war of tempo. Idaho State does a great job of keeping the game at its pace. We have to do some things to try to speed them up, and we have to be smart against their zone and take good shots."

The Eagles are 8-8 overall this season while the Bengals are 7-8. Portland State takes its 11-6 overall record into Wednesday's (Jan. 10) game at Weber State. Last year, Eastern was a combined 5-0 against ISU and PSU, including an 81-75 victory over the Vikings in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament.

Eastern is 2-7 away from home this season, including last week's 88-87 win at Northern Colorado and an 87-66 romp at Portland on Dec. 9. Among Eastern's road losses are setbacks to Gonzaga, UNLV, Washington, Santa Clara and Oregon -- all with at least nine wins each in non-league play. Three of those teams are or have been nationally ranked.

Last year the Eagles were 6-1 at home in the Big Sky and were 3-4 on the road to finish third in the league at 9-5.

 

About Idaho State: Senior guard David Schroeder leads ISU with a 15.5 scoring average, and is also averaging 6.3 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 2.8 three-pointers made per game. Akbar Abdul-Ahad, another senior guard, averages 13.7 points, 4.7 assists and 2.9 treys. The team's top big man is 6-foot-9 John Ofoegbu, a transfer from Texas Tech who is averaging 9.1 points and 4.4 rebounds.

Idaho Sate and Eastern both defeated Idaho and lost to Oregon during the preseason. First-year head coach Joe O'Brien won 313 games as a junior college coach and is one of only three coaches to ever win three national junior college championships. One of his titles came in 2000 when he led Southeast (Iowa) Community College and future EWU standout Chris Hester to the title. The high-flying Hester scored 16 points in the championship game before playing two seasons for the Eagles from 2001-03 when he earned first team All-Big Sky Conference honors twice.

 

About Portland State: The Vikings are led by 6-foot-11 junior Scott Morrison, who averages 13.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots per game. Forward Juma Kamara adds 11.8 points and guard Dupree Lucas chips in 11.0 points and 4.0 assists.

Eastern and Portland State have played 10 common opponents, including the same four league teams thus far. Both teams defeated Northern Colorado and lost to Northern Arizona. However, Eastern beat Montana and lost to Montana State, while PSU's results against those teams were the opposite. In non-conference action, both teams lost to Cal State Northridge, Oregon, Gonzaga and Washington, and both teams defeated The Evergreen State and Portland.

 

Eastern's Frequent Flyer Miles: Eastern will log 6,557 miles during a five week stretch of games from Jan. 4 to Feb. 3 when the Eagles play eight of 10 games on the road.

As the crow flies (and not even including connecting plane flights), here is the breakdown of dates traveling and miles logged during Eastern's eight road trips.

Jan. 3 - Cheney-Spokane-Denver-Greeley: 890 miles

Jan. 5 - Greeley-Denver-Phoenix-Flagstaff: 760 miles

Jan. 7 - Flagstaff-Phoenix-Spokane-Cheney: 1,154 miles (total of 2,804 on road trip)

Jan. 10 - Cheney-Spokane-Pocatello: 665 miles

Jan. 12 - Pocatello-Portland: 538 miles

Jan. 14 - Portland-Spokane-Cheney: 291 miles (total of 1,253 on road trip)

Jan. 24 - Cheney-Spokane-Sacramento: 655 miles

Jan. 26 - Sacramento-Salt Lake City-Ogden: 562 miles

Jan. 28 - Ogden-Salt Lake City-Spokane-Cheney: 593 miles (total of 1,830 on road trip)

Jan. 31 - Cheney-Bozeman: 334 miles

Feb. 2 - Bozeman-Missoula: 163 miles

Feb. 3 (after EWU-UM game) - Missoula-Cheney: 173 miles (total of 670 on road trip)

 

Team GPA From Fall Quarter an Impressive 3.34: Eastern's six victories in the preseason were nice, but a 3.34 team grade point average from fall quarter was an even better Christmas gift for the Eagle men's basketball program.

Of the team's 13 players, all but two had a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Seven -- more than half the team -- had a GPA of 3.46 or better. Rodney Stuckey, an academic non-qualifier out of high school but an ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII selection a year ago, had a 3.46 GPA to give him a 3.34 GPA overall. Freshman Michael Taylor led the way with a 3.84 GPA in his first quarter as a college student.

Burns on Team GPA: "To have that high of a GPA as a team is phenomenal. I don't know where that would put us in Division I basketball, but I'm sure it would be one of the highest in the country. I think it just speaks to the quality of person we have in the program. We ask them to work hard on the court and in the classroom and they are doing both of those things."

 

Pre-Season Losses Lead to Big Sky Conference Wins: In the last eight seasons (including this season), Eastern has had a 40-60 (.400) pre-conference record. Those difficult schedules have yielded a 69-37 (.663) Big Sky Conference record in that span -- tops in the league. Eastern has finished third or better in the Big Sky regular season standings in six of the last seven years en route to a pair of regular season Big Sky titles, one Big Sky Tournament title and three-runner-up tourney finishes.

In the last two seasons under head coach Mike Burns, Eastern has been 11-14 in the preseason -- including a 6-6 record in 2006-07 and 5-8 in 2005-06. In the previous four seasons under Ray Giacoletti, the Eagles were 4-9 in 2003-04, 8-6 in the 2002-03 season, 6-8 in 2001-02 and 5-5 in his first year at the helm in pre-conference play. His worst pre-conference record was in 2003-04, 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.

 

Narrow Defeats: Four of Eastern's losses thus far have been nail-biters, including a 102-98 loss at Cal State Northridge on Dec. 3 in which the Eagles held a three-point lead with 3:32 remaining. Eastern lost to then-16th ranked Washington 83-70 in a game that featured 13 ties and 16 lead changes before the Huskies pulled away. Eastern also narrowly lost at UNLV 82-79 after rallying from a 15-point deficit with 7 1/2 minutes to play. The Eagles opened Big Sky Conference play on Dec. 28 with an 82-79 loss to Montana State in which Bobcat Carlos Taylor made a 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer for the win.

 

Thus Far, Eagles Have Best Offense in 35 Years: It's been 35 years since the Eastern Washington men's basketball team has scored points like this.

The Eagles have averaged 86.4 points per game this season for an early pace that, at least for now, is just behind the school record of 90.0 set by the 1971-72 team. The 1970-71 squad averaged 86.3 and in 1975-76 Eastern averaged 85.2. The last time Eastern scored or allowed points in the 80's came in 1990-91 when the Eagles averaged 80.9 and allowed 82.0.

With a trio of 100-point efforts already to its credit this season, Eastern's 574 points scored in six games from Nov. 21 to Dec. 9 (95.7 average) was the highest-scoring stretch since the 1975-76 season when Eastern had 118, 115, 84, 95, 95 and 71 in consecutive games (578 total). That squad scored at least 100 points five times while the 1971-72 squad did it seven times and the 1970-71 team had a school-record nine 100-point efforts. Interestingly, the 1970-71 team also allowed nine 100-point games and allowed an average of 80.3 points per game.

Eastern registered a 110-100 shootout victory at home on Nov. 27 over Cal State Fullerton. Eastern's 110 points were the 13th-most in school history and the third-most versus a NCAA Division I opponent. The only other times Eastern scored more versus a D-I opponent were both against U.S. International (118-83 on Feb. 2, 1991 and 116-82 on Feb. 8, 1986). The combined 210 points made it the fifth-highest scoring game in school history, which was equaled on Jan. 6, 2007, when Northern Arizona beat EWU 109-101. The record for combined points is 225 in a 118-107 loss to Carroll College on Dec. 8, 1967. The NAU game was also the most points Eastern has scored in a loss since losing in double-overtime 115-106 to Nevada-Reno on Jan. 12, 1989.

During this season's high-scoring six-game stretch, Eastern also scored 106 points against The Evergreen State on Nov. 21, 83 at Washington on Nov. 24 and 90 versus Eastern Oregon at home on Nov. 27. Eastern came two points from the century mark in a 102-98 loss at Cal State Northridge on Dec. 3, then closed the stretch with 87 in a 21-point victory over Portland on Dec. 9.

Defensively thus far this season, Eastern is allowing 83.9 points per game and already has given up four 100-point performances. The school record for points allowed came in the 1967-68 season when opponents averaged 87.7 points. The 373 points allowed in a four-game stretch from Nov. 24 to Dec. 3 were the most against the Eagles in a four-game stretch since allowing 91, 97, 108 and 81 during the 1990-91 season (377 total). The 109 points NAU scored versus EWU were the most against EWU since Jan. 27, 1996, when Weber State defeated EWU 119-88.

 

Eagles in NCAA Statistics: Through games played Jan. 7, Eastern ranks fifth in NCAA Division I with an average of 86.4 points per game. Rodney Stuckey is sixth individually with an average of 23.3 points per game and 14th in steals with an average of 2.7. Eastern is also 14th in assists (18.3) and 25th in field goal percentage (.492).

 

Eagles in Big Sky Statistics: Through games played Jan. 6 in the Big Sky Conference, the Eagles lead the league in scoring (86.4) and field goal shooting (.492) and are last in scoring defense (83.9).

Individually, Rodney Stuckey leads in scoring (23.3), free throw percentage (.862, 106-of-123), and steals (2.7), and is second in assists (5.3). Paul Butorac is 15th in scoring (12.6), third in rebounding (7.2), third in field goal shooting (.617) and fourth in blocked shots (1.1).

Omar Krayem is 22nd in scoring (10.2), ninth in assists (3.2), 12th in steals (1.2) and 12th in three-point percentage (.388, 26-of-67). Michael Taylor is 10th in three-point shooting (.400, 18-of-45) and Matt Penoncello is 14th (.378, 17-of-45). Kellen Williams has come on strong lately to move into 29th in the league in scoring (9.2), sixth in field goal shooting (.561) and 14th in rebounding (5.2). Marcus Hinton is sixth in free throw percentage (.771, 27-of-35).

 

Stuckey 15th Eastern Player To Go Over Career 1,000-Point Mark: It took sophomore Rodney Stuckey just 43 career games to join 14 others as the only Eastern players in school history to score 1,000 points in a career. He hit that milestone on Dec. 28 against Montana State when he finished with 26 points. With a current total of 1,098 points, he ranks 12th in school history. His career scoring average of 23.9 points in 44 career games is well ahead of the school record of 18.3 set by David Peed from 1988-90. Stuckey already has five of the top 20 scoring games in school history. Ten times in his career he has topped 30 points, including four times this season. And he has been Eastern's leading scorer all but six of 46 career games.

The preseason All-American is averaging 23.1 points per game this season, but that is down from his average of 26.7 through games of Dec. 10 when he ranked third in NCAA Division I. Against Santa Clara on Dec. 11, he picked up two quick fouls and was scoreless in the first half in just eight minutes of action. He had 12 points in the second half, but that game snapped a 36-game streak that lasted more than a year in which he was EWU's leading scorer. It was also the fewest points Stuckey had scored in his then 40-game EWU career as he played just 25 minutes. He followed that by scoring only two points against Oregon when he suffered back spasms and played just the first four minutes of the game. He had scored in double figures in his first 40 appearances in an Eagle uniform until the Oregon game.

Prior to those two games, he was honored for the fifth and sixth time in his career as Big Sky Conference Player of the Week in back-to-back weeks in November and December. The first honor came after he averaged 28.0 points per game while helping the Eagles to a pair of victories and a near-miss of nationally-ranked Washington. He also averaged 5.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. His second honor came after he scored 62 points in a split of games that included 30-point efforts in each. He also had seven assists in each game, and added 10 steals and 11 rebounds in the two games combined in which he played 70 total minutes and had just four turnovers.

Without even stepping a foot on the basketball floor for the 2006-07 season, Stuckey attracted national acclaim and attention. Most recently, Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS recognized him as one of the best NCAA Division I players "under the radar." Last year Stuckey was the Freshman of the Year in NCAA Division I by Collegeinsider.com and won Big Sky Conference Player of the Year accolades.

Stuckey was one of 50 players selected as a preseason candidate for the men's 2006-07 Wooden Award All-American Team as selected by the National Preseason Selection Committee for the John R. Wooden Award. The list is composed of 50 student athletes who, based on last year's individual performance and team records, are the early frontrunners for college basketball's most coveted trophy.

He was also selected by Collegeinsider.com as one of 16 players nationally on its preseason All-America team. Another impressive accolade came from Lindy's Magazine, which ranked him as the third-best shooting guard in all of NCAA Division I. Gary Parrish from CBS Sportsline selected Stuckey as the sixth-best shooting guard in the nation. The Sporting News ranked him as the 16th-best point guard nationally.

Stuckey was named a first team selection on the collegehoops.net All-Underrated Team in September and CHN also ranked him as the 34th-best player in the nation (eighth among sophomores).

He was also recognized by Frank Burlison on Fox Sports.com as a sophomore to watch. Burlison quoted Southern California head coach Tim Floyd - a former head coach at Idaho and the Chicago Bulls - as saying Stuckey was "the best NBA prospect we played against last season." Stuckey scored 15 points and had five rebounds in EWU's 69-51 loss to the Trojans at the Great Alaska Shootout on Nov. 30, 2005. That, incidentally, was the last time he didn't lead the Eagles in scoring during a year-long streak that lasted 36-straight games until finishing with just 12 against Santa Clara on Dec. 11, 2006.

In addition, Stuckey has or will be featured in various collegiate publications and web sites, including Slam Magazine, Basketball Times and numerous daily newspapers.

Playing for a team with just one senior, Stuckey burst onto the scene last year with one of the best seasons by a freshman in NCAA Division I history. His record-breaking season was unmatched in the history of Eastern Washington and by any freshman in the 43-year history of the Big Sky Conference.

The 6-foot-4 guard from Kent, Wash., set seven school records, including a 24.2 scoring average per game that is a Big Sky record for a freshman and the seventh-best overall in the history of the league. His average ranked eighth in NCAA Division I. His 726 total points is fifth-best in league history, the most in the conference in nearly 30 years (since 1978-79) and the most-ever by a freshman in the BSC.

Stuckey became just the 36th player in NCAA Division I to lead his conference in scoring as a freshman. He won league MVP and Freshman of the Year honors, and in the process, became the first player in Big Sky history and the 12th in Division I history to earn league MVP honors as a freshman.

Below is a list of 30-point games by Stuckey along with his ranking in school history.

1. - 45 - Northern Arizona (1-5-06)

4. - 38 - Portland State (3-4-06)

7. - 36 - Montana (1-28-06)

14. - 34 - Boise State (12-29-05)

20. - 33 - Lewis-Clark State (11-18-06)

24. - 32 - Cal State Northridge (12-3-06)

29. - 31 - Washington (11-24-06)

29. - 31 - Portland State (1-14-06)

34. - 30 - Eastern Oregon (11-29-06)

34. - 30 - UC Riverside (12-10-05)

 

Butorac Breaks Career Blocked Shots Record, Probably Dunks Record as Well: Eastern senior center Paul Butorac has been piling up blocked shots and dunks at a record pace.

Now with 86 blocked shots in his career, Butorac broke the school record of 79 held by Chris White (1998-00). He set the record against Washington on Nov. 27 when he had three blocks. Although no records exist for dunks, Butorac also has 84 career dunks, including 24 already this season. He had five at Cal State Northridge on Dec. 3.

A career 57.4 percent shooter, 84 of Butorac's 278 career field goals made have been dunks. He is the lone returning player from Eastern's 2003-04 team that won the Big Sky Conference regular season and tournament titles and advanced to the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament.

On Jan. 6 against Northern Arizona, Butorac made 8-of-9 shots to finish with a career-high 21 points in the 109-101 loss to the Lumberjacks. Butorac had another career day with 20 points, 22 rebounds and five blocked shots as Eastern Washington surged past Lewis-Clark State 85-70 on Nov. 18. A 6-foot-10 product of nearby Medical Lake, Wash., Butorac's rebounds and blocked shots against L-C State were both the second-most in school history. Butorac's rebounding performance was Eastern's best in nearly 35 years since Dave Hayden had a school-record 28 against Oregon Tech on Jan. 15, 1972. He equaled his career high for blocks as he came one from the school record of six set by Dexter Griffen against Idaho State on Jan. 2, 1987.

He also had a near triple-double at Washington on Nov. 24 -- 14 points, nine rebounds and 10 stitches after taking an elbow to the mouth. He played only 24 minutes after missing the last 4 1/2 minutes of the first half and the opening 4 1/2 minutes of the second half. He took an elbow from Washington 7-footer Spencer Hawes and Butorac's mouth needed seven stitches on the outside of his face and three on the inside of his mouth after his teeth severed his skin.

Butorac's average of 1.76 blocked shots per game as a junior was third in the Big Sky Conference, and his season total of 51 ranked 20th in Big Sky history. He shattered the previous single season school record of 37 set by Matt Peppers in 1981. He had five blocked shots versus UC Riverside as a junior to rank second in school history.

 

SERIES HISTORY

EWU-Idaho State Series History (Since 1983-84): Eastern has won 15 of the past 19 meetings against the Bengals, including a sweep in the 2001-02, 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons. Last year, Eastern won 80-64 at home before triumphing 94-87 in Pocatello. 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. Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 26-22 against the Bengals, including a 17-7 record in Cheney and 8-14 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 29-23 (19-6 in Cheney, 9-16 in Pocatello, 1-1 neutral).

 

EWU-PSU Series History (Since 1983-84): Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are now 14-8 versus the Vikings. All of the meetings have come since 1997 when PSU joined the Big Sky Conference. The Eagles have won 12 of the last 15 meetings, with the lone losses a 73-62 setback in Portland in 2001 and 70-59 and 71-70 setbacks in the 2004-05 season in Cheney. Eastern is 9-2 in Cheney and 5-5 against PSU in Portland (0-1 on neutral courts) since 1983-84. Eastern leads the overall series 15-11, with EWU owning a 10-3 record in Cheney and 5-7 mark in Portland (0-1 on neutral courts) against the Vikings.

Last year, Eastern won three games against the Vikings. Eastern won 89-70 in Portland, 72-64 in overtime in Cheney and then won at Reese Court again by an 81-75 score in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Rodney Stuckey scored 91 points in three games against the Vikings, including 38 in the third meeting that were the second-most in Big Sky Tournament history (fourth in school history).

 

MORE SEASON NOTES

Williams Hot at End of 2006: Junior Kellen Williams was on a hot streak to end December, averaging 13.6 points and 7.6 rebounds on 56.3 percent shooting in a five-game stretch from Dec. 11-Dec. 30. He scored in double figures in four of those games, including a career-high 24 versus Idaho on Dec. 21. In his first seven games of the season, Williams was averaging 6.6 points and 4.1 rebounds.

 

Preseason Schedule Tougher Than Expected: Eastern's difficult preseason schedule included losses to two teams ranked when EWU played them (Oregon, Washington) and one other that wasn't ranked but then spent several weeks in the top 25 (Gonzaga). Another loss came to a UNLV squad that knocked off nationally-ranked and previously unbeaten Nevada. Those four teams were a collective 44-9 in their non-conference schedules (UO 12-0, UW 10-1, GU 9-6, UNLV 13-2). Eastern's other losses were to Santa Clara (10-5 in non-conference play) and Cal State Northridge (6-5). Gonzaga and Washington, as well as Big Sky rival Montana, advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season where all three teams picked up first-round victories.

Eastern will be trying to advance to its 10th-straight Big Sky Conference Tournament, which begins March 3. The current streak for the Eagles started in 1998 after Eastern made just one trip to the tourney in their first 10 seasons as a member of the conference.

Eastern is coming off a season that saw it win seven more games than the 2004-05 EWU squad. Eastern finished 15-15 overall and 9-5 in the Big Sky Conference. The Eagles advanced to the Big Sky Conference Tournament semifinals, but lost to eventual champion Montana in overtime. The Grizzlies went on to win a game in the NCAA Tournament.

 

Burns on Preseason Schedule: "When we put the schedule together, we knew it would be difficult. We just didn't anticipate it being as difficult as it was. It's been a difficult schedule and I think we've won the games we were supposed to win. If we have any regrets with where we are right now, it's the fact there were a couple of games on the road we had a chance to win but didn't take advantage of the opportunity. Not winning them was tough. But that's why we play this schedule -- to toughen ourselves and prepare ourselves for conference play. I think we've done that and ended on a positive note against Idaho."

 

Eagles Picked to Finish Third: Just one point separated first and second place in the 2006-07 Big Sky Conference Men's Basketball preseason media and coaches' poll. In the coaches' poll, Northern Arizona is first and in the media poll, Montana is first. Eastern was third in both as it finished just five points out of first in voting by the coaches and just 11 points from first in the media poll.

Eastern received one first-place vote in the coaches' poll and 54 total points. Seven media members voted the Eagles first, and EWU earned 222 points in that poll.

Coaches' Poll
School (First-place votes) Points

1. Northern Arizona (4) 59
2. Montana (4) 58
3. Eastern Washington (1) 54
4. Portland State 41
5. Sacramento State 37
6. Weber State 27
7. Idaho State 22
8. Montana State 17
9. Northern Colorado 8

Media Poll
School (First-place votes) Points

1. Montana (9) 233
2. Northern Arizona (13) 232
3. Eastern Washington (7) 222
4. Portland State 149
5. Sacramento State 143
6. Montana State 109
7. Weber State 95
8. Idaho State 93
9. Northern Colorado 30


 

Hinton Misses Four Games: Besides Rodney Stuckey's ailing back, guard Marcus Hinton missed four games in December with a foot injury. He averaged 6.6 points in EWU's first eight games, missed four games, then returned to score one point in eight minutes of action against Montana State and Montana to begin league play.

Both he and Stuckey were able to get plenty of time to heal as EWU went five days without a game before taking on Idaho on Dec. 21. That was only the second gameless stretch of more than four days for EWU since the season began on Nov. 10. The Eagles had another six days off after the Idaho game.

 

Three Different Eagles Led Eastern in Scoring In Three Games After Stuckey's Streak Ends:

Up until the Santa Clara game on Dec. 11, sophomore Rodney Stuckey had led Eastern in scoring in 36-straight games, a year-long streak that started against Idaho on Nov. 30, 2005, and ended on Dec. 11, 2006.

Back spasms kept his point production down and limited his playing time in a three-game stretch in which three other Eagles led EWU in scoring. Kellen Williams had a career-high 24 points to lead the Eagles in an 85-56 win over Idaho on Dec. 21. Paul Butorac led the way with 16 points against Oregon on Dec. 15 and Omar Krayem led EWU with 19 points at Santa Clara on Dec. 11. Stuckey returned as Eastern's leading scorer to end the year when he scored 26 versus Montana State on Dec. 28 and had 28 against Montana two days later.

 

Early Start and Odd Schedule Result of Additional League Member: The early start to the league season and the lack of home games early is mostly contributed to the addition of Northern Colorado to the league this year. Now with nine teams, the league schedule is much more difficult to construct than it was with eight schools and natural travel partners. Now, league coaches are forced to play the hand they're dealt and tolerate the inconvenience.

Regardless, the formula for winning the league title is simple and the same as always.

"The old formula is to win your home games and win half your road games," said Burns. "I think the team that is able to do that in the Big Sky will be the regular season champion -- that's what it's going to come down to. The league is going to be extremely competitive, so you need to protect your home floor and find a way to sneak away with four or five wins on the road. It's easy to say, but it will be an entirely different situation to try to accomplish that."

Seven of the nine teams in the league won at least five games entering conference play, led by 9-4 Portland State. Northern Arizona, the preseason pick to win the league title in the coaches poll and second in the media poll, entered league play with a 5-6 record. Montana was picked first by the media and second by the coaches. Eastern was picked next and Portland State was picked fourth.

"If anything, it's even more competitive than we thought," admitted Burns. "There are seven or eight teams heading into league play that have to feel like they have a legitimate chance to contend. I think we are one of those teams."

 

Turnovers Were Problem in Non-Conference Losses: Turnovers were a bugaboo for the Eagles -- both from the careless variety and as the result of the fast-paced style of play they are trying to utilize -- during non-conference play. In its six non-league losses, Eastern averaged 19.2 turnovers (115 total), and opponents turned those into an average of 22.7 points per game (136 total).

In Eastern's first three games, Eastern had 62 turnovers with opponents scoring 69 points off those miscues. Eastern, meanwhile, forced 45 turnovers in those three games and did a good job of turning them into points as EWU scored 51 points off turnovers.

Cal State Northridge converted 20 Eastern turnovers into 31 points in an Eagle loss on Dec. 3. Prior to that, Washington scored 24 on 16 EWU miscues. Another low point came against UNLV when Eastern had 14 first-half turnovers and eight in the second half as the Eagles allowed UNLV to score 25 total points off turnovers. Gonzaga scored 22 points off 20 EWU turnovers and Oregon scored 22 off 19 Eagle miscues.

 

Offensive Rebounds Were Also Reason to Worry: For a three-game stretch in December, when Eastern's opponent missed shots, it was about a 50-50 proposition whether or not the Eagles are going to secure the rebound. In the Portland, Santa Clara and Oregon games combined, Eastern was out-rebounded by 31 (10.3 per game) and allowed opponents to grab 55 offensive rebounds (18.3 per game) compared to just 62 defensive boards for the Eagles. The results were a total of 47 second-chance points (15.7 per game) and a total of 21 extra shots for EWU's opponents in those three games.

Eastern led the rebounding battle by two at halftime at Santa Clara on Dec. 11, but were out-rebounded by 12 in the second half. Santa Clara, which scored 17 second-chance points, had 19 offensive rebounds compared to 22 defensive boards for the Eagles. The result was 17 more field goal attempts in the game for the Broncos and 17 second-chance points.

"Part of rebounding is rotating to the ball," explained Burns after the Santa Clara game. "When the entire team does not do that you are going to give players an open lane to the basketball. In the second half they were catching it on the weak side of the glass and laying it in. We were not where we needed to be."

In an 87-66 romp over Portland, the only negative for Eastern was getting out-rebounded 41-36. Eastern had 24 defensive rebounds compared to 22 offensive rebounds for Portland. The Pilots had 17 second-chance points. Versus Oregon on Dec. 15, Eastern was out-rebounded 42-26 and the Ducks had 13 second-chance points.

 

Eagles Versus Ranked Teams: Eastern is now 1-12 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 have come under current head coach Mike Burns. Five others came under Ray Giacoletti from 2000-2004.

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

 

Eastern 12-64 Versus the Pacific 10 Conference: With losses to Washington each of the last four seasons and a 1-8 record all-time against the Huskies, Eastern is now 12-64 all-time versus current members of the Pacific 10 Conference. Eastern has a current six-game losing streak versus the Pac 10 after losing at Oregon 100-74 on Dec. 15, 2006.

Eastern's win at Washington in the 2002-03 season snapped a five-game losing streak versus Pacific 10 Conference opponents dating back to Eastern's 83-82 overtime win versus Washington State on Dec. 22, 1997, in Kennewick, Wash. That victory was Eastern's first-ever victory over a Pacific 8 or Pacific 10 Conference opponent since the inception of the conference in 1968. It was also Eastern's first win over Washington State since Dec. 1, 1952, when the Eagles pulled out a 72-71 overtime win in Pullman. The Cougars had led the all-time series 49-10 and had won 17-straight games over the Eagles prior to that EWU victory.

Prior to falling at 16th-ranked Washington 90-83 on Nov. 24, Eastern's last game against a Pacific 10 opponent was a 91-74 loss to 11th-ranked Washington on Dec. 16, 2005. In the 2004-05 season, Washington was ranked 14th in the nation and defeated EWU 89-56. The Huskies also prevailed 104-91 in 2003, but Eastern defeated the Huskies 62-58 in December 2002. Washington won the previous four meetings which all took place between 1990 and 1997.

Other recent meetings against the Pac 10 have yielded losses to Oregon (100-74 on Dec. 15, 2006), Arizona (79-45 on Dec. 28, 2004), California (56-27 on Nov. 16, 2001 and 94-63 on Nov. 25, 1998), Oregon State (58-50 on Dec. 19, 2000 and 78-62 on Dec. 15, 1999) and Washington State (91-72 on Dec. 5, 1998).

 

Former Franklin Teammates Reunite in Eugene: There was an informal reunion Dec. 15 by two of the stars from the 2003 WIAA State 4A Championships won by Seattle's Franklin High School. Eastern's Kellen Williams and Oregon's Aaron Brooks led the Quakers to the title that year as Williams averaged 19.8 points and 13 rebounds during the season before averaging 10.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in four state tournament victories. Brooks averaged 24.3 points and seven assists per game as a high school All-American and State 4A Player of the Year.

Franklin finished 25-2, and beat undefeated Mead 67-55 in the championship game. Williams scored 10 points in the title game to earn second team all-tournament honors. Brooks scored 38 for Franklin, while future Gonzaga star Adam Morrison finished with 38 en route to a tournament-record 127 points.

In the Dec. 15 reunion, Williams finished with eight points and seven rebounds. Brooks was one of five Oregon players in double figures, scoring 16 points with five assists.

 

Eastern Faces Former Eagles: Opponents in back-to-back games in December, Portland and Santa Clara included former Eagles on their rosters. Portland featured EWU free throw percentage record holder Darren Cooper while the point guard for Santa Clara was Danny Pariseau.

Cooper, a 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 14.9 points per game a year ago, had been slowed by off-season knee surgery and a hamstring injury suffered early in the season. He played in UP's first two games but missed the next nine games, including the EWU match-up. He played as a freshman for EWU in 2002 when he set the school's single season free throw percentage record (.899, 71-of-79).

Pariseau played for the Eagles from 2003-05, redshirted at Santa Clara last season and entered the EWU game with starts in eight of nine games with averages of 10.6 points and 3.9 assists per game. He finished the game with five points, nine assists and rive rebounds. Pariseau came to EWU after a stellar career at Shadle Park High School in Spokane, Wash. He started 36 of 89 career games for the Eagles, averaging 5.9 points and 3.2 assists per game.

Cooper was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA and returned for his third year with the Pilots. Cooper, who endured the loss of three family members during his year and a half stint at Eastern Washington, returned to his native Portland to help his mother through breast cancer treatments. Because of his unique situation, the NCAA granted Cooper an extra season.

Although eligible, Cooper was been limited by off-season knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He played six minutes in Portland's opener against Oregon State then played 24 minutes the following night versus Cal Poly. However, he strained his hamstring against the Mustangs and has been sidelined ever since.

West Coast Conference coaches took note of the return of Cooper by naming him one of the league's top six returning players. Cooper averaged 14.9 points per game last season, including 17.0 points during the conference schedule. While at EWU in the 2001-02 season, he averaged 6.5 points and 17.1 minutes in 30 games played, including three as a starter.

 

Six Players Miss Games Because of Suspensions: Because of violation of team rules, Omar Krayem, Brandon Moore and Kellen Williams missed the Lewis-Clark State game. Paul Butorac, Matt Penoncello and Derek Risper --all starters in EWU's first three games -- sat out against Evergreen State.

The end result was Eagle standout Rodney Stuckey playing 39 minutes and Butorac 36 against L-C State. Those two players made the most of those minutes as Stuckey scored 33 points and Butorac finished with 20 points, 22 rebounds and five blocked shots. In a 41-point rout of The Evergreen State, Moore played 34 minutes and finished with 23 points and eight rebounds on 8-of-10 shooting from the field and 7-of-11 from the free throw line. Stuckey scored 26 points in 27 minutes as all eight Eagles that played were in the game for at least 15 minutes each.

 

Eastern Just The Fifth BSC School to Make Nine-Straight Tournament Appearances: 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). Last year, 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 seed Montana - L, 71-73 (ot)

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

2005 - Quarterfinal (Missoula, Mont.) - #6 seed vs. #3 seed 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 seed Weber State - W, 72-53

2003 - Championship (Ogden, Utah) - #2 seed vs. #1 seed 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 seed Idaho - L, 62-65

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

 

Big Crowds: The 10,000 fans that watched Eastern's near-upset of Washington on Nov. 24 in Seattle was the 15th time since the 2000-01 season that Eastern has played in front of crowds in excess of 10,000 fans. A sellout crowd of 10,000 attended the game, while Eastern's games at Washington the previous two seasons had crowds of 9,418 in 2004 and 9,876 in 2005.

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.

Unfortunately, Eastern has failed to win all 15 of those games. Here is a list of those crowds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2005-06 Season Recap: It was the year of Rodney Stuckey, but it was also a season of vast improvement for a youthful Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.

In fact, the Eagles won seven more games than the 2004-05 EWU squad.

"In talking with our players about this year, the one thing the season has done is create an even greater hunger for success next year," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns at the conclusion of the season. "I think that's a key component to having the sort of success we've come to expect around here."

Playing for a team with just one senior, Stuckey burst onto the scene with one of the best seasons by a freshman in NCAA Division I history. Among his many awards was being honored as Collegeinsider.com Freshman of the Year after a record-breaking season unmatched in the history of Eastern Washington and by any freshman in the 43-year history of the Big Sky Conference.

The 6-foot-4 guard from Kent, Wash., set seven school records, including a 24.2 scoring average per game that is a Big Sky record for a freshman and the seventh-best overall in the history of the league. His average ranked eighth in NCAA Division I. His 726 total points is fifth-best in league history, the most in the conference in nearly 30 years (since 1978-79) and the most-ever by a freshman in the BSC.

Stuckey became just the 36th player in NCAA Division I to lead his conference in scoring as a freshman. He won league MVP and Freshman of the Year honors, and in the process, became the first player in Big Sky history and the 12th in Division I history to earn league MVP honors as a freshman.

His many accolades also included Mid-Major All-America by Collegeinsider.com; selected to the Freshman All-America second team by Rivals.com; National Freshman of the Week accolades by CBSsportsline.com and Rivals.com; Big Sky Conference All-Tournament; and four Big Sky Conference Player of the Week awards. He was also Eastern's first-ever member of the NABC All-District 13 squad, and was honored on the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII squad for accumulating a 3.34 grade point average through five quarters of academic work at EWU.

Whew. Not bad for a player who couldn't even practice or play for the Eagles in the 2004-05 school year because of NCAA academic eligibility requirements.

"The accolades speak for themselves," said Burns. "To have a player from the Big Sky Conference recognized by a major media outlet as the National Freshman of the Year speaks volumes about the impact he made not only regionally but also nationally. He is very deserving of any and all accolades he receives, and I think that sheds light on where our program is heading."

Thanks to Stuckey and his teammates, the Eagles finished 15-15 after a third-place finish in the Big Sky Conference with a 9-5 mark. That was an improvement of three positions and four wins from a year earlier when the Eagles were 8-20 overall and 5-9 in the Big Sky.

After opening the Big Sky Conference Tournament with an 81-75 victory over Portland State, Eastern fell 73-71 in overtime to eventual Big Sky Champion and NCAA Tournament representative Montana in the semifinals. The Grizzlies survived in overtime against EWU after Stuckey missed a short jumper that could have won it for the Eagles.

It was Eastern's sixth trip to the semis in the last seven years, but the Eagles came up short in their bid for a fifth trip to the title game in six seasons. The Eagles won the Big Sky regular season and tourney titles and advanced to their first-ever NCAA Tournament in the 2003-04 season.

Eastern won seven of its last nine games versus Big Sky foes, with the lone losses coming to UM. Montana went on to pound tournament host Northern Arizona 73-60 for the title, then upset fifth-seeded Nevada 87-79 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

"We thought we had a very special group," said Burns. "They were very young and very inexperienced, and they fought through a very difficult schedule in December. We knew that would be a challenge and it was. But to finish the way we did bodes very well for the future. We hosted and won a playoff game, and then took the eventual conference champions to overtime in the semifinals."

Stuckey scored 26 points in the semifinals against the Grizzlies as he finished the year leading EWU in scoring in its final 27 games of the season. One game earlier, he had the second-most points in tournament history with 38 versus the Vikings as the Eagles completed a three-game sweep of PSU. Interestingly, the record - 39 by Mike O'Quinn of Cal State Northridge - came in an overtime victory versus EWU in 1998 in the first game of a current string of nine-straight tourney appearances for the Eagles.

Eastern finished third in the league standings with 9-5 record, with Montana at 10-4 and Northern Arizona 12-2. Behind the Eagles were Montana State (7-7), Sacramento State (5-9), Portland State (5-9), Idaho State (4-10) and Weber State (4-10). Weber State ended its run of 24-straight appearances in the Big Sky Tournament.

Eastern is now 7-9 in 10 appearances in the league tournament, and is just the fifth team in the 31-year history of the tournament to qualify for at least nine-straight tournaments. The EWU streak started back in 1998 after the team made just one trip to the tourney in its first 10 seasons as a member of the conference.

 

Eagles Play Five NCAA Tournament Teams, Two in NIT Last Season: Eastern Washington played five teams in the 2005-06 season that advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Eastern was 0-7 against those squads - Gonzaga, Washington, Marquette, Southern Illinois and Big Sky rival Montana. The Eagles lost to Brigham Young and split with Northern Arizona as those two squads advanced to the NIT.

 

Eagles 11th Nationally in Field Goal Percentage: In 2005-06, Eastern Washington finished 11th among 326 NCAA Division I schools with a .486 shooting percentage that ranked third in the Big Sky. Eastern was also 36th nationally in assists (15.9 per game), 58th in blocked shots (4.3 per game), 61st in scoring (74.1 per game) and 70th in three-point percentage (.368). Eastern's lowest rankings were 309th in field goal percentage defense (.473) and 284th in scoring defense (74.0).

Individually, freshman Rodney Stuckey was eighth in scoring (24.2 per game) and 49th in steals (2.2 per game).

 

Stuckey Wins National Freshman of the Year Honor: Sensational Eastern Washington University men's basketball player Rodney Stuckey was selected by Collegeinsider.com as its 2005-06 National Freshman of the Year. The internet media outlet made the announcement March 6.

The high-scoring 6-foot-4 guard was chosen along with 24 other NCAA Division I players to Collegeinsider.com's Freshman All-America team. After a record-breaking season unprecedented in Big Sky history - and rare in the history of college basketball - Stuckey was chosen as the best.

"Rodney has received many tremendous accolades this year, however, being recognized nationally as the Freshman of the Year is a phenomenal achievement," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "We obviously feel he is deserving of the award. Not only has he been a great player, but he's been a great student and, most importantly, a great teammate."

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