Idaho State and Sac State are Both Friends and Foes

Feb. 19, 2007

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It's not friend or foe this week. It's friend AND foe.

The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team plays its final two games of the league season when it hosts Idaho State Thursday (Feb. 22) and Sacramento State Saturday (Feb. 24).

Both games begin at 7 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., as four Eagle seniors -- Paul Butorac, Rhett Humphrey, Neal Zumwalt and Derek Risper -- probably play their final home games in EWU uniforms. In addition, sensational sophomore Rodney Stuckey is just three points from becoming only the fourth player in school history to score 1,400 career points.

The Eagles will probably need to win both games to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the Big Sky Conference Tournament for the 10th-straight year. Portland State, one of the teams EWU is chasing in the league standings, plays the same two teams on opposite days.

Thus, the Bengals and Hornets may be EWU's foes, but they are also their friends because winning won't be enough for the Eagles. Eastern will also need some help after the Eagles followed a huge 89-74 home victory over Weber State on Feb. 7 with a disappointing 92-86 home loss to PSU three days later.

Portland State kept possession of sixth place in the Big Sky, moving to 7-7 in the league. Eastern fell to seventh with a 6-8 league record and is now 13-14 overall, with only the top six teams advancing to the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Last week, Eastern posted an impressive road win, 71-70, at UC Santa Barbara in the O'Reilly ESPNU BracketBusters.

Just 2 1/2 games separates seventh place from second place in the league standings. Idaho State is 7-5 in the league and 12-13 overall, and still has a chance to finish anywhere from first to eighth in the league standings. Sacramento State is 4-9 in the league and 9-17 overall, and needs three wins and lots of help to earn a top six finish. Earlier this season, Eastern fell at Idaho State 78-65 but won at Sacramento State 100-85.

Eagle head coach Mike Burns is hoping the effort EWU has shown in recent games -- including the UC Santa Barbara win -- will carry over to this week's do-or-die games. Eastern has split its last four games overall, but has won just once in its last five league outings. That victory came against league-leader Weber State by an 89-74 score in Cheney.

"Our effort has been very good, going back to the Montana game at Montana," he said. "We had a great chance to win that game -- the shots didn't fall down the stretch but our effort was good. Then we had a great effort against Weber State, and I thought our effort against Portland State was very good. We made some mistakes and missed a few rotations here and there, but our effort was good. It was one of those nights where we were either not aggressive enough offensively or too aggressive. As long as we have a good effort I think we can be effective and get a victory."

Since EWU and PSU split the season series, if those two teams end up tied for sixth, the tie is broken by record versus teams in descending order in the final league standings. That would give Eastern a possible advantage by virtue of EWU's win over current league-leader Weber State. The Vikings were swept by the Wildcats.

Eastern can also catch as many as four other teams -- Montana, Montana State, Idaho State and Northern Arizona -- besides PSU. Montana State lost at Sacramento State and Montana fell at Weber State in the lone league games last week, so EWU's fate will come down to the final week of play when 12 league games take place between Feb. 21 and Feb. 27.

To stay alive, the Eagles will probably have to do something they haven't done all year. In seven conference weekends of action thus far, Eastern has had splits six weeks and was swept on the road at Montana and Montana State. Eastern has had three home splits that included key losses to Montana State (82-79 on Dec. 28), Northern Arizona (91-80 on Jan. 18) and Portland State (92-86 on Feb. 10).

"There are a lot of things that can happen and this league has proven that any team in the Big Sky can beat any other team on any given night," said Burns.

 

Remaining Games Hold Key: It would seem, based on history, that even an 8-8 record should be good enough for EWU to get into the tournament. Since the league expanded in 1970-71 (it has had at least eight teams ever since), a .500 record has always been good enough for a top six finish.

However, the Big Sky is as competitive as ever this year and now has nine members with the addition of Northern Colorado. So there are most definitely several scenarios that could have a team -- the Eagles included --- finishing 8-8 and not advancing.

The top six teams in the nine-team league advance to the Big Sky Conference Tournament. The quarterfinals take place on March 3 and are hosted by the No. 3 and 4 seeds. The winners of those two games and the top two teams in the regular season standings receive byes to the semifinals on March 6. The semifinals, as well as the nationally-televised championship game the next night, are hosted by the regular season champion.

Here are the remaining league games for Eastern and the five teams Eastern is chasing in the league standings:

Eastern Washington (6-8): 2/22 vs. ISU; 2/24 vs. Sac State.

Portland State (7-7; 1-1 vs. EWU): 2/22 vs. Sac State; 2/24 vs. ISU.

Montana State (7-6; 2-0 vs. EWU): 2/21 vs. UNC; 2/25 vs. NAU; 2/27 at ISU.

Idaho State (7-5; 1-0 vs. EWU): 2/22 at EWU; 2/24 at PSU; 2/26 vs. UM; 2/27 vs. MSU.

Northern Arizona (8-5; 2-0 vs. EWU): 2/22 at UM; 2/25 at MSU; 2/27 vs. UNC.

Montana (8-5; 1-1 vs. EWU): 2/22 vs. NAU; 2/24 vs. UNC; 2/26 at ISU.

 

This Time, BracketBusters a Success: Except for the result -- a 71-70 EWU victory this time around -- EWU's BracketBusters game on Feb. 17 had a similar feel for EWU as its first venture in the ESPN-created event last season. Cal State Fullerton, another Big West school who was EWU's opponent in the BracketBusters debut for the Eagles last season, is about 20 miles from Los Angeles. Santa Barbara is 90 miles away. The Eagles were thumped by the Titans last season 89-63 in Fullerton.

The Gauchos entered the game 5-0 against common opponents with the Eagles thus far. UCSB won road games at Montana State 88-56, UNLV 79-76, Portland 75-67 and Cal State Northridge 67-57, and picked up an 84-76 home win over Cal State Fullerton.

Eastern was 2-4 against those same teams, including a 110-100 home shootout win over Cal State Fullerton. The game against the Titans was the return game as part of the agreement to host a BracketBusters game, thus, the Gauchos are required to make a trip to Cheney, Wash., next season. Besides the win over Cal State Fullerton, Eastern has lost at UNLV 82-79 and Cal State Northridge 102-98, and lost twice to Montana State 82-79 and 84-67. Eastern won at Portland 87-66.

 

About Idaho State: The Bengals allow opponents just 66.9 points per game, and held EWU to season lows for points (65) and field goal percentage (.385, 20-of-52) in the 13-point loss. Senior guard David Schroeder leads ISU with a 16.9 scoring average, and is also averaging 5.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 2.7 three-pointers made per game. Akbar Abdul-Ahad, another senior guard, averages 12.8 points, 4.4 assists and 2.6 treys. The team's top big man is 6-foot-9 John Ofoegbu, a transfer from Texas Tech who is averaging 9.7 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 Sacramento State: The Hornets allow an average of 81.5 points per game, but force a league-best average of 20.2 turnovers per game, with an overall league-leading turnover margin of +5.96 per game. Also an illustration of their relentless hustle is the fact the Hornets lead the league and rank third in NCAA Division I in steals (10.7 per game) and also lead the Big Sky in offensive rebounds (14.3). Five players average in double figures, paced by the 13.5 average of Haron Hargrave.

 

Stuckey Has Scored 100 Points in Last Three Games: Eastern sophomore Rodney Stuckey had two of the six highest-scoring games -- and top two this season -- to earn Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors for the seventh time in his illustrious career following EWU's home split against Weber State and Portland State. Stuckey, ranked sixth in NCAA Division I in scoring with a current 24.9 average, was honored twice earlier this season and four times as a freshman in 2005-06 when he was selected as the National Freshman of the Year by Collegeinsider.com.

He scored 34 points in a win over league-leader Weber State on Feb. 7 and 36 in a loss to Portland State three days later. He followed that with a 30-point effort at UC Santa Barbara, giving him exactly 100 points in EWU's last three games. In those three games, he is averaging 33.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.7 steals per game. He has made 53 percent of his shots from the field, including 5-of-15 three-point attempts, and 25-of-29 free throws for 86 percent.

Stuckey's performance at UCSB -- the 15th time in his career he has hit that mark -- helped him move into fifth on EWU's career scoring list. Now with 1,397 points in his 57-game career, he passed the 1,396 Alvin Snow had from 2001-04. He is now just two points from moving into fourth. It took him just 43 career games to join 14 others as the only Eastern players in school history to score 1,000 points in a career, and now he should become just the fourth player in school history to hit the 1,400-point mark. He is now averaging 24.5 points in 57 career games -- 24.9 this season and 24.2 last season.

Stuckey also broke his single season record for free throws attempted against UCSB. Last year, Stuckey made 171-of-225 from the charity stripe for 76.0 percent, shattering the school record for makes (145) and attempts (190). This year he has improved upon those records, and is currently 195-of-229 for 85.1 percent.

He also broke the school's career free throw record against Sacramento State on Jan. 25, en route to a 31-point effort. Stuckey made 15-of-16 free throws against the Hornets, missing his final attempt that would have equaled the Big Sky and EWU records for single game free throw percentage (16-of-16) set by Jason Lewis on Jan. 27, 2001, against Weber State. However, Stuckey broke EWU's career free throws made record, and now has 366 in his two-year career to break the school record of 317 set by Randy Buss from 1970-72. His 454 attempts are third, still 45 from EWU's record of 499.

With five 30-point performances in his last eight games, Stuckey had 31 points against Northern Colorado on Jan. 20. That was his first 30-point performance in his last 12 games since finishing with 32 against Cal State Northridge on Dec. 3.

 

Narrow Defeats: Although the final score wasn't indicative of how close the games actually were, Eastern's games against Montana State (84-67 loss) and Montana (85-78 loss) featured 22 ties and 29 lead changes. There were nine ties and 12 lead changes before MSU pulled away, and the UM game included 13 ties and 17 lead changes before Montana took a double-digit lead and held on for the win.

Four other 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. Another home loss, 91-80 to Northern Arizona on Jan. 18, featured nine ties and three lead changes in the first half before the Lumberjacks pulled away after intermission.

 

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 84.5 points per game this season for a pace that 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 four 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 83.1 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 Feb. 15, Eastern ranked third in NCAA Division I with a current average of 85.0 points per game. VMI is the nation's leader at 102.9 per game. Rodney Stuckey was sixth individually in scoring (now 24.9 points per game) and 13th in steals (2.6). Eastern was also ranked 11th in assists (17.8) and eighth in field goal percentage (.496). Paul Butorac is 12th nationally in field goal percentage (.631).

 

Eagles in Big Sky Statistics: Through games played Feb. 17 in the Big Sky Conference, the Eagles lead the league in scoring (84.5) and free throw shooting (.736), and are second in field goal shooting (.496), assists (17.7), steals (7.3) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.16). Eastern is last in scoring defense (83.1).

Individually, Rodney Stuckey leads in scoring (24.9), steals (2.5) and free throw percentage (.852, 195-of-229), and is second in assists (5.4). Paul Butorac leads the league in field goal shooting (.630) and is ninth in scoring (14.3), fourth in rebounding (6.6) and third in blocked shots (1.1).

Omar Krayem is 29th in scoring (9.1), 12th in assists (2.0), 15th in steals (1.0) and 12th in three-point percentage (.379, 36-of-95). Michael Taylor is ninth in three-point shooting (.400, 30-of-75). Kellen Williams is 30th in the league in scoring (8.8), fifth in field goal shooting (.568) and 12th in rebounding (5.6). Brandon Moore is 12th in blocked shots (0.8).

In conference games only, Stuckey is first in scoring (26.5) and second in assists (6.2) and steals (2.6). Butorac leads the league in field goal percentage (.649).

 

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.

His career scoring average of 24.5t points in 57 career games is well ahead of the school record of 18.3 set by David Peed from 1988-90 and ranks third in league history. Stuckey already has seven of the top 22 scoring games in school history. Fifteen times in his career he has topped 30 points, including nine times this season. And he has been Eastern's leading scorer all but six of 57 career games, with a current streak of 15-straight games.

The preseason All-American is averaging 24.9 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.

 

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 98 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 98 career dunks, including 38 already this season. He had five at Cal State Northridge on Dec. 3.

A career 58.7 percent shooter to rank second in school history behind Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame member Ron Cox, 98 of Butorac's 350 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. He equaled that with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting at Portland State a week later on Jan. 13. He then had a career-high 22 points at Weber State on Jan. 27 when he made 10-of-14 shots.

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.

 

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). 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

 

SERIES HISTORY

EWU-Idaho State Series History (Since 1983-84): Eastern has won 15 of the past 20 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 26-23 against the Bengals, including a 17-7 record in Cheney and 8-15 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 29-24 (19-6 in Cheney, 9-17 in Pocatello, 1-1 neutral).

Earlier This Season - Idaho State 78, Eastern Washington 65: Idaho State was in the zone Jan. 11 at Holt Arena in Pocatello, Idaho, as the Eagles became the third victim of ISU's zone defense in a 78-65 loss that kept Idaho State on top of the league standings at 3-0.

Eastern had season lows for points, field goal percentage overall (20-of-52 for 39 percent) and three-point shooting percentage (6-of-29 for 21 percent). In its first three Big Sky games, ISU opponents averaged just 59.3 points and made only 37 percent of their shots against the Bengals. Those three opponents made just 23-of-91 treys for a measly 25 percent.

"That's why they play that zone," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "We had some opportunities to score out there and had shots we usually make. It's just unfortunate we didn't."

Eastern sophomore Rodney Stuckey led the Eagles with 17 points, five points and three steals, but he was held to six points less than his season average entering the game of 23.3 that ranked sixth in NCAA Division I. He missed all five of his three-point attempts in finishing the game 6-of-13 from the field, and also had six turnovers.

As a team, Eastern was held to 21 points less than its season average of 86.4 points per game. Its previous low in a game came in a 91-68 loss at Santa Clara exactly a month earlier on Dec. 11. Eastern entered the ISU game ranked fifth nationally in scoring and was 25th in field goal percentage (.492).

The Bengals used runs of 6-0 and 11-0 to open an early 32-14 lead with 4:53 to play in the first half. Idaho State led by as many as 19 points in the first half before settling for a 36-23 lead at halftime. In the second half, both teams scored 42 points.

"In the second half we were aggressive against their zone and tried to attack it with balance and the pass inside," said Burns. "In the first half we were too passive and we settled. If you are taking jump shots and they are going in, then you will stretch the zone and can drive it at them. But they were just daring us to shoot it. We had to find a way to shoehorn it into the middle and we were able to do that. But we came up a little short."

Eastern cut the lead to six on a basket by Stuckey with 11:15 to play in the game, but the Bengals went on a 6-2 run to re-open a 10-point bulge. Eastern was able to cut it to single digits only four times after that and never any less than eight.

"We had momentum on our side and we had a couple of possessions that could cut into that lead even more," said Burns. "But we couldn't knock one down and we also had a turnover at that time. When you get down like we did, your margin for error is very small. You have to play efficient basketball. For a few minutes we came close to that, but you have to make a lot of shots in that situation."

Besides Stuckey's 17 points, Marcus Hinton came off the bench to score 13 points on perfect 10-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. Paul Butorac added 10 points and a game-high nine rebounds, but made just 3-of-7 shots from the floor and 4-of-9 free throws.

Stuckey scored 11 of his points in the second half.

"We tried to put him in the middle of the zone in the second half," explained Burns. "He's good there because he's so quick and so strong, That kind of got him going a little bit offensively and helped us out."

Idaho State had four players score in double figures, led by the 18 points off the bench by Matt Stucki. The Bengals out-rebounded Eastern 34-29 and made 47 percent of their shots from the field. David Schroeder and Akbar Abdul-Ahad had 17 and 16 points, respectively.

"We like to push the pace of the game and stay in man-to-man and play aggressively," said Burns. "But tonight we had trouble stopping them inside, and we had trouble stopping Schroeder and Akbar as well. We felt it we went to the zone we could force them to take some perimeter shots and our guys did a pretty good job for the most part of rebounding out of it. It definitely helped but it didn't help enough."

 

 

EWU-Sacramento State Series History (Since 1983-84): Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 18-7 versus Sacramento State. The Eagles have won 11 of their last 14 games against the Hornets, and have an 11-1 record versus Sacramento State in Cheney and 7-6 record in Sacramento.

Eastern lost 88-69 at Sacramento State last year before winning 87-75 at Reese Court. Eastern has won the last 10 meetings at home against Sac State, dating back to a 68-67 Hornet victory on Jan. 19, 1995.

Earlier This Season - Eastern Washington 100, Sacramento State 85: Eastern Washington University men's basketball coach Mike Burns used words like poise, character, cohesion and chemistry to describe this one.

With Rodney Stuckey putting on a record-setting performance from the free throw line, Eastern rallied from a 15-point deficit to win by that margin, 100-85, over Sacramento State in a Big Sky Conference game Jan. 25 at the Hornets Nest in Sacramento, Calif.

"We showed great poise and great character," said Burns, whose team out-scored the Hornets 73-45 after falling behind 40-27. "I'm very proud of them for that.

Eastern rose above the .500 mark for only the third time this season and pulled to within one game of the conference lead.

"The cohesion and chemistry is very good right now," said Burns. "There have been some questions about that lately. But I know we had a very happy group in the locker room tonight."

Besides Stuckey's 12th 30-point game of his 51-game career -- including his sixth this season -- Paul Butorac had 21 points and nine rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting from the field. Kellen Williams added 11 points and nine rebounds, and Derek Risper came off the bench to finish with 13 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots.

But Stuckey was again his amazing self, finishing 8-of-19 from the field and 15-of-16 from the free throw line to go along with seven rebounds, five assists and a pair of steals.

He now has made 319 free throws in his two-year career, surpassing EWU's previous school record of 317 set by Randy Buss from 1970-72. Stuckey missed his 16th and final attempt against Sac State, which could have equaled him with Jason Lewis for the best single-game free throw percentage performance in school and Big Sky history (16-of-16 in 2001 versus Weber State).

Stuckey scored many of his points on drives to the baskets against Sacramento State's pressure defense. The result was Eastern making 16-of-24 field goals and 21-of-27 free throws in the second half. Eastern finished the game making 58.6 percent from the field and 32-of-41 free throws for 78 percent.

"When they really crawl up in you and extend that defense, they give you one choice," explained Burns. "And that one choice is to put it on the deck. Through most of the second half that was what we did. When you can get by the first guy, it opens things up.

"We shot 67 percent in the second half, and that's why," he added of the team's offensive performance, which also included just 15 turnovers after Sac State entered the game forcing an average of nearly 21 per game. "Kudos to our players for being strong with the basketball and taking care of it."

Eastern fell behind early 31-16 and 33-18, but eventually chipped into that lead to take a 43-42 advantage late in the first half. Eastern's zone defense and a 45-30 rebounding edge in the game helped the Eagles overcome the big deficit.

"They hit some bombs against us and got on a roll," said Burns. "We were struggling to stop them but our guys did a nice job, especially rebounding. That was a phenomenal effort."

Tied at 47 at halftime, Eastern trailed 59-55 when it went on a 12-0 run to take the lead for good. Stuckey, Williams and Butorac each scored four points in the run as EWU held Sac State scoreless for nearly four minutes.

The Eagles broke the game open with a 12-2 run that gave them an 86-70 advantage with six minutes left. Stuckey and Risper each scored four points in that run as EWU held Sac State to just a single field goal in a span of 4:48.

Eastern led by no less than 11 the rest of the way and led by as many as 19.

"We switched zone defenses in the second half," explained Burns of a suggestion made by EWU associate head coach Carl Howell at halftime. "We've worked on a 1-3-1 a little bit in practice but we haven't shown it in a game. My hat's off to Coach Howell for making that call at halftime. We stuck with that for a long stretch and it gave them some problems."

 

MORE SEASON NOTES

Home League Stretch Follows Difficult Road Stretch: Eastern is in the midst of a stretch in which its final four conference games are at home. Those home games are sandwiched around the Feb. 17 non-conference game at UC Santa Barbara as part of the O'Reilly ESPNU BracketBusters.

The Eagles are now 3-5 on the road and 2-2 at home in league games thus far. During a brutal road stretch in which EWU played eight of 10 league games on the road, Eastern logged 6,557 miles during the five-week stretch of games. Between Jan. 3 and Feb. 3, Eastern was on the road 19 of 32 days.

"I've never been through a stretch like this," said Burns after the gauntlet was over. "Even through the years we've never had a non-conference stretch this difficult. To have eight out of 10 on the road is tough and fatiguing. Just to be back home and get a chance to rest our guys will be great for us."

Overall, Eastern is now 5-11 away from home this season, with road victories at UC Santa Barbara, Sacramento State, Portland State, 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. Eastern beat Portland State in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Tournament, but fell to eventual champion Montana in overtime in the semifinals.

 

Eastern's Frequent Flyer Miles: Eastern logged 6,557 miles during a five week stretch of games in January and early February when the Eagles played eight of 10 games on the road. In all, Eastern spent 19 of 32 days on the road from Jan. 3 to Feb. 3.

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."

 

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 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 missed several games after that -- including the EWU game.

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.

 

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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