Young Eagle Squad Improves by Seven Wins (3/21/06)

March, 21, 2006

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 can't wait for the 2006-07 season to start after winning 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. "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 and Freshman of the Year honors 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 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 in the Big Sky Conference with a 9-5 mark. That was an improvement of three positions and four wins from a year ago 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 its 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 its 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 making just one trip to the tourney in its first 10 seasons as a member of the conference.

Eagles Continue Winning Ways: In the last seven seasons, Eastern has won 66 percent of its conference games (a league-best 67-35). Eastern won regular season titles in 1999-00 and 2003-04, was runner-up three other times and was the third-place finisher in 2005-06. Overall during that time span, Eastern is 107-97 (53 percent) with only one losing season.

Eagle Head Coach Mike Burns on Experienced Gained: "You can't put a value on experience. We now have a very young team that has some experience. That, combined with their talent level, is going to allow us to keep improving and get better and better over the course of the coming years."

Signees Win Big Awards: Eastern's two letter of intent signees from last November -- guard Michael Taylor from Brewster, Wash., High School and guard Omar Krayem from Lower Columbia Community College in Washington -- concluded their careers at their respective schools with high honors.

Taylor was selected as the State 1A Player of the Year by the Seattle Times, and was also selected by that newspaper as a second team All-State selection including players from all classifications. He averaged 25.2 points, 9.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists and nearly three steals per game in leading 24-2 Brewster to its second-straight runner-up finish in the State 1A Tournament where he was MVP.

Krayem led the 31-2 Red Devils to a runner-up finish in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges Tournament and earned first team All-Tournament honors. He then was selected as the MVP in leading the West over the South 104-94 in an NWAACC All-Star Game, finishing with 22 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

Burns on Talent for 2005-06: "It will be very difficult to replace the leadership and ability of our lone senior Deuce Smith. However,-- we'll be able to replace him with (2005-06 letter of intent signees) Michael Taylor and Omar Krayem. We're extremely excited -- particularly because our returning players have lived NCAA Division I basketball for a year. With that experience and understanding of what is expected, I think they'll be able to perform at an even higher level next year."

Eagles Play Five NCAA Tournament Teams, Two in NIT: 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.

Eastern's RPI & Strength of Schedule Solid: With a difficult pre-season schedule and improved performance league-wide, through games of March 13th Eastern ranked 142nd nationally in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). Eastern had the 108th-toughest schedule among the 326 NCAA Division I teams. As a conference, the Big Sky improved from 31st to 17th.

Through games of Dec. 22, Eastern was rated 93rd in the RPI ratings. It is believed to be one of Eastern's highest ratings -- if not the highest -- in school history. Montana was the top-rated Big Sky team at the time at 90th, and was 61st as of March 13th. Northern Arizona was the only other Big Sky team finishing ahead of Eastern at 118.

Eagles 12th Nationally in Field Goal Percentage: Through games of March 13, Eastern Washington was 12th among 326 NCAA Division I schools with a .486 shooting percentage that ranked third in the Big Sky. Eastern was also 38th nationally in assists (15.9 per game), 57th in blocked shots (4.3 per game), 67th in scoring (74.1 per game) and 73rd 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: What the Big Sky Conference now knows, the rest of the nation is learning as well.

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 announced March 6. The story on Stuckey can be found at: http://www.collegeinsider.com/awards/2006_freshman.html.

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."

Stuckey took the league by storm, leading Eastern to a 9-5 league record and third-place finish -- up three spots and four wins from the previous season. The youthful Eagles -- with just one senior on its roster -- finished 15-15 overall after an 8-20 finish one year earlier.

The 2004 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., couldn't practice or play for the Eagles in the 2004-05 school year because of NCAA academic eligibility requirements, but has had a solid 3.34 grade point average through five quarters of academic work at Eastern.

Stuckey averaged 24.2 points per game, ranking him eighth nationally in Division I -- tops among all freshmen or sophomores. He was the Big Sky Conference MVP and Freshman of the Year after scoring a school-record 726 points that is also a record for a freshman and ranks fifth all-time in the league's history.

In the 27 previous years the MVP honor has been awarded by the Big Sky, no freshman has ever won the award. He is just the 12th player in NCAA Division I history to win his league's MVP award as a freshman, and just the 36th freshman to lead his league in scoring.

"We're thrilled for the attention this honor brings not only to Rodney, but to our basketball program, Eastern Washington University and the Big Sky Conference," added Burns. "We would like to thank Collegeinsider.com for recognizing him with this prestigious award."

Stuckey's first game in the league yielded a school-record 45-point performance at Northern Arizona on Jan. 5 that ranks 11th all-time in league history and the most by a freshman. He scored 38 points in his first Big Sky Tournament game March 4 against Portland State, a performance that ranks second in tourney history.

"He's the real deal," said CollegeInsider.com senior writer Matt Drake. "He can shoot, pass and defend, but his biggest contribution is his leadership. This kid is mature beyond his years."

Drake has been one of his Stuckey's biggest supporters in the media as the season progressed and his talent at the collegiate level was discovered.

"He will undoubtedly be overlooked for accolades outside the borders of Big Sky country and that is too bad because Rodney Stuckey is a legitimate candidate for national freshman of the year," he said in a column he wrote in February. "Before you point out again that it's the Big Sky, sit down and watch. You'll see that this kid could play and star in any league in America."

"One coach joked that the best defense for Stuckey is to hope he doesn't play," added Drake in his column. "But even the flu can't slow him down. Fighting a fever, Stuckey dropped 36 on then first-place Montana."

Stuckey also averaged 4.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game, and his lowest scoring output of the season came in the team's season-opener against Pacific Lutheran and against Montana on Feb. 23 when he had 14. With a 26.3 average during league play, he scored 20 or more points in 12 of 14 Big Sky games and 20 of 30 games overall. He scored at least 30 points in six games, including 38 in a Big Sky Conference Tournament quarterfinal win against Portland State and 36 in a regular season loss at Montana.

Rodney Stuckey Wins Big Sky MVP as a Freshman: One sportswriter affectionately called Rodney Stuckey a "ridiculously talented freshman." On March 1, the Eastern Washington University men's basketball standout won an award that would normally seem ridiculous for a freshman to win.

The 2004 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., was rewarded for a record-breaking season as he was selected as the Big Sky Conference Most Valuable Player in voting conducted by the conference's head coaches.

Stuckey, 6-foot-4 guard, was also given the league's Freshman of the Year award. In addition, Eastern senior guard Deuce Smith and junior center Paul Butorac earned All-Big Sky honorable mention honors.

In the 27 previous years the honor has been awarded by the Big Sky, no freshman has been the MVP and accomplished so much. He is just the 12th player in NCAA Division I history to win his league's MVP award as a freshman, and just the 36th freshman to lead his league in scoring.

"It's a tremendous honor and Rodney is very deserving," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "It speaks volumes of not only Rodney but the progress our team has made as well. Awards are definitely individual and team honors, and (Montana's) Kevin Criswell and (Northern Arizona's) Kelly Golob were also very deserving players and had tremendous senior seasons. I was proud of the effort Rodney and our team have put forth this season in order for him to receive such a prestigious award as a freshman."

Stuckey became the second Eagle player to win MVP honors, just two years after Alvin Snow won the award for Eastern's 2004 NCAA Tournament team. Eastern has now won three of the last five Freshman of the Year honors in the Big Sky (Marc Axton in 2002 and Matt Nelson in 2004). Nelson averaged 7.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, including averages of 9.6 points and 5.3 boards in Big Sky Conference play. When Axton won, he averaged 5.9 points and 2.8 rebounds overall, and 8.5 and 3.6, respectively, in conference play.

Stuckey received the highest accolade the league awards despite not being able to play or practice the entire 2004-05 season because of NCAA academic eligibility requirements.

"The academic work he had to do to get back on the basketball floor are things we're probably even more proud of," said Burns. "It is remarkable for him to be away from the game for that long and accomplish the things he's done this season. It says a lot of him not only as a player but as a person."

Smith, a 6-3 guard from Oakland, Calif., was Eastern's lone senior and transferred to EWU last season from Tyler Junior College in Texas.

"We're thrilled that Deuce was recognized for the contributions he's made to our team and program," said Burns. "He's a great leader and has been instrumental in helping this team mature as the season has evolved."

Butorac set the school's blocked shots record this year, and is approaching the career mark as well. The 6-foot-10 forward/center graduated from Medical Lake High School in 2002.

"Paul has had a great season," said Burns. "He has been a leader on an off the floor and is very deserving of being recognized as one of the best players in the Big Sky. He's improved each year, and he improved this year as the conference season went along. He's been rock-solid for us all year long."

More on Stuckey: The honors keep piling up for freshman sensation Rodney Stuckey, highlighted by his being named as the National Freshman of the Year by Collegeinsider.com.

He won Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors four times in the first 12 occasions the award was given out as he led the Eagles in scoring for the final 27 games of the season. That streak started in Eastern's fourth game of the season on Nov. 26, 2005, against Southern Illinois.

Stuckey, a 2004 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., ranked eighth in NCAA Division I in scoring average in statistics through games of March 13 with a 24.2 average. He was tops among freshmen or sophomores, and his 45 points against Northern Arizona on Jan. 5 ranked as the highest single game mark for nearly a month (second as of March 13).

He also averaged 4.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game, and his lowest scoring output of the season came in the team's season-opener against Pacific Lutheran and against Montana on Feb. 23 when he had 14. With a 26.3 average during league play, he scored 20 or more points in 12 of 14 Big Sky games and 20 of 30 games overall. He scored at least 30 points in six games, including 38 in a Big Sky Conference Tournament quarterfinal win against Portland State.

Stuckey's 24.2 average broke EWU's single season record of 20.9 set by David Peed in 1989. His 726 points shattered the single season record of 626 set by Peed in 30 games in 1989. His point total is fifth in Big Sky Conference history -- the most in nearly 30 years (1978-79) -- and his average is the seventh-best. Stuckey's scoring average also broke EWU's freshman record of 13.3 points per game set by Eastern Hall-of-Fame member Ron Cox in the 1973-74 season.

He was 171-of-225 from the free throw line and broke EWU's free throw records of 145 made (Matt Piper, 1983) and 190 attempted (Dick Koford, 1960). In his final game of the season, he set records for field goals made (250; the previous record was 246 set by Peed in 1989) and field goals attempted (510; the record was 500 set by Peed in 1989).

With performances of 45, 38, 36, 34 and 31, Stuckey had five of the top six scoring performances in the Big Sky in the 2005-06 season. The first taste of the Big Sky Conference for Stuckey yielded a school-record 45 points in Eastern's loss at Northern Arizona on Jan. 5. Stuckey made a basket in the final seconds that broke Eastern's school record of 44 set by David Peed on Dec. 13, 1988, in a 112-101 loss versus UC-Irvine. It was also a record for a freshman in the 43-year history of the Big Sky and equaled the 12th-best overall in league history. It was the most since Idaho's Orlando Lightfoot scored 50 against Gonzaga in 1993.

Stuckey's total against NAU was the best single-game mark in the nation for nearly a month (currently second). He surpassed the 43 Gonzaga's Adam Morrison had against both Michigan State and Washington earlier this season. Versus NAU, Stuckey scored 23 of his points in the final 8:05. He made 15-of-21 shots overall, 5-of-8 three-pointers and 10-of-12 free throws. He added five steals, three assists and three rebounds, with just two turnovers in 32 minutes.

His first taste of the Big Sky Conference Tournament on March 4 against Portland State yielded a 38-point effort that ranked as the second-best performance in tournament history. He added 26 in a semifinal loss to Montana to earn Big Sky All-Tournament honors.

Besides Stuckey, Other Newcomers Made Big Contributions: The active roster for the Eagles included a pair of returning starters -- guard Deuce Smith and forward Jake Beitinger. The team's other two returning letterwinners were Paul Butorac and Henry Bekkering, but the remainder of the team consisted of seven first-year players in the Eagle program.

Among them, freshman guard Rodney Stuckey made the biggest contributions with averages of 24.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game. He was Eastern's leading scorer in its last 27 games, starting Nov. 26 against Southern Illinois.

Among the other newcomers, starting sophomore Kellen Williams contributed 8.0 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Freshman redshirt Matt Penoncello chipped in 6.6 points per game and solid defense, and Rhett Humphrey added 3.0 points and 1.6 assists in an average of 16.1 minutes per game. Derek Risper started six times, and added 2.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Among the returning players, Butorac is averaging 10.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots per game, and Smith averaged 8.4 points, 2.6 assists and 1.4 steals. Both Butorac and Smith earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors for their efforts. Beitinger averaged 6.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.1 blocks. Bekkering came off the bench to contribute 3.9 points per game in the 20 games he played.

An eighth newcomer, Nick Livi, left the team in late December for personal reasons. Livi played in five games from Nov. 19 until Dec. 10.

Eagles, Butorac Shatter Shot Blocks Records: Eastern became an outstanding shot-blocking team in the 2005-06 season en route to shattering the single season school record. Eastern finished with 130 blocks (4.3 per game), compared to 49 all of the 2004-05 season (1.8 per game). The previous school record was 92 set in the 1986-87 season when the Eagles averaged 3.3 per game.

Center Paul Butorac had 51 to surpass the previous single season record of 37 set by Matt Peppers in 1981 and rank 20th in Big Sky history. He also has 70 blocks in his career, ranking second in school history behind the record of 79 held by Chris White (1998-00). Teammate Jake Beitinger also ranks on both EWU lists with 33 blocks in 2005-06 (fifth) and 44 in his career (seventh).

The Eagles had back-to-back performances of nine against Cal State Northridge and 10 versus UC Riverside that neared the school record of 13 set against Portland on Nov. 26, 1991. Both Butorac and Beitinger had five in single games to rank second in school history.

Eagle Trends: The difference in wins and losses for the Eagles was staggering.

In Eastern's 15 wins in the 2005-06 season, the Eagles out-scored opponents by an average of 14.4 points per game with only two victories decided by less than seven points. In those 15 wins, Eastern out-rebounded opponents by an average of 4.8 per game and out-shot them .520 to .435. Defensively, in Eastern's victories the Eagles allowed just 64.7 points per game, including just .303 from the three-point line.

In their losses, the Eagles allowed 83.4 points on .508 shooting and were out-rebounded by 4.1 per game. Also, Eastern forced 16.1 turnovers in its wins and just 13.0 in its losses.

Eastern was 9-1 when allowing 68 points or fewer (6-14 when allowing more), 10-2 when it out-rebounded opponents (5-13 when it didn't) and 12-3 when it had a better shooting percentage (3-12 when it didn't). The lone victories when the Eagles were out-shot came against Weber State on Jan. 21 and Feb. 15 and at Idaho State on Feb. 27.

Overall, only seven Eagle games were decided by less than eight points, and just three under five. Eastern's loss at Montana State and a pair of regular season setbacks to Montana represented three of the four losses Eastern had when the Eagles held a halftime lead (total of 17). The Eagles led 39-38 at MSU after owning a 35-25 advantage in the first half, but lost 82-70. Eastern led at Montana 40-33 at intermission, and the Eagles had a 10-point advantage early in the second half before losing 78-72. At home versus Montana on Feb. 23, Eastern led by as many as seven in the first half and six at halftime, but was outscored 48-20 in the second half in the 68-46 loss. The other loss with a lead at intermission came against Southern Illinois when Eastern led 34-33 at halftime in an 80-72 loss.

At home (10-2), Eastern averaged 74.8 points on .512 shooting, and limited opponents to 65.0 points on .439 shooting. Away from home (5-13), EWU averaged 73.6 points on .469 shooting, but allowed opponents to average 80.1 points on .495 shooting.

Stuckey, Beitinger, Butorac on Single Game Best Lists: Freshman Rodney Stuckey, sophomore Jake Beitinger and junior Paul Butorac have earned their way onto EWU's single game bests lists.

Stuckey had a school-record 45 points at Northern Arizona on Jan. 5, breaking the previous record by one point. He had 38 versus Portland State on March 4 to rank third and 36 points at Montana on Jan. 28 to rank seventh. Stuckey has also had performances of 34 (14th), 31 (27th) and 30 (32nd). Prior to this season, the freshman scoring record was owned by Alvin Snow with 28 points on Dec. 14, 2000, against Cal Poly. Stuckey owned the top four single-game performances in the Big Sky, and for nearly a month his 45-point outburst was the top performance in NCAA Division I.

Stuckey had seven steals against Cal Poly on Dec. 23 that equals the sixth-best performance in school history (just two from the school record) and was the best in the Big Sky. He also had 10 assists versus Pacific Lutheran on Nov. 19 that equals the 14th-best performance in school history and at the time was a Big Sky high (finished fifth). In addition, his 10 turnovers at Boise State on Dec. 29 equaled the school record and were a league high.

Beitinger had five blocked shots versus Cal State Northridge on Dec. 4 that are second only to the school-record six that Dexter Griffen had against Idaho State on Jan. 2, 1987. Butorac duplicated that feat one game later against UC Riverside. Both performances ranked seventh in the league.

MORE NOTES

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, 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 making just one trip to the tourney in their first 10 seasons as a member of the conference. 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 seed Northern Arizona - 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 Cal State 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 seed 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

Stuckey Selected to NABC All-District Team: Eastern Washington freshman Rodney Stuckey was selected to the National Association of Basketball Coaches Division I All-District 13 first team. He is Eastern's first-ever player to be selected to that squad. Only one other freshman was selected to the first team (North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough) and only two freshmen were on the second team.

"That is a tremendous honor and Rodney is very deserving," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "He's played extremely well for us during the course of the season. I think when Rodney receives an honor like this, it's a team honor. Rodney will be first to tell you that he couldn't do what he does without his teammates. We're very proud of him, and I'm very proud of our team for that honor."

Stuckey, a 6-foot-4 guard from Kent, Wash., was named to the to the squad along with Nevada's Nick Fazekas, San Diego State's Marcus Slaughter and Brandon Heath, and Denver's Yemi Nicholson. Gonzaga's Adam Morrison and J.P. Batista were first team selections on the All-District 14 squad.

The All-District Teams consist of 150 players from 15 districts. The players selected are now eligible for the NABC All-America Teams.

The NABC is located in Kansas City, Mo., and was founded by Phog Allen in 1927. The NABC currently claims nearly 5,000 members consisting primarily of university and college men's coaches.

Stuckey Adds Academic Honor to Accomplishments: If it wasn't for what he accomplished in the classroom, Rodney Stuckey wouldn't be adding to his list of accomplishments on the court.

The Eastern Washington University men's basketball standout was rewarded for his hard work off the court Feb. 9 by being selected to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII first team. The honor is chosen by members of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).

Stuckey, who couldn't play or practice the entire 2004-05 season due to NCAA academic eligibility requirements, has a solid 3.34 grade point average through five quarters of academic work at Eastern.

The other four players on the first team include Stanford's Chris Hernandez and Dan Grunfeld, Pacific's Christian Maraker and Kelly Golob from Big Sky Conference rival Northern Arizona.

"Of all the honors he will probably accumulate this year, we take the greatest pride in this one," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "It's not only indicative of his play on the floor, but more importantly, of the tremendous job he's done in the classroom."

Stuckey, a 2004 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., was not eligible in the 2004-05 season because he hadn't fulfilled core curriculum requirements coming out of high school. He admits his mistake, and vowed to rectify it.

"In high school, I didn't take academics seriously until my senior year. I should have been doing that my entire high school career," the business administration major explained in an interview that was later posted on ESPN.com. "It held me back, but things happen for a reason. I'm here at Eastern and I'm loving it."

"Taking the year off and getting my academics straight has helped me out tremendously. I'm ahead in my (progress toward a degree), and I'm not having to take a heavy load every quarter. The year away from basketball and summer school has really helped me with my academics, and it's leading to great things on the basketball court."

Although he has taken on a great load for Eastern on the court, his work last year helped lessen his academic load this season. His message is one that any student-athlete in his position can take to heart.

"I put more effort into my classes and homework," he said. "I just don't want to be in that position again where I'm not eligible and I can't play. Watching games and not playing is not really fun. You just have to keep your grades up."

"Pen" Mighty Against Lumberjacks & Hornets: The pen is mightier than the sword, but so is Eastern Washington's "Pen" against Northern Arizona and Sacramento State. Freshman redshirt Matt Penoncello helped lead Eastern to a pair of home victories against those two foes, scoring a season-high 18 against Sacramento State on Feb. 2 and then following that with 12 points and a season-high six rebounds against Northern Arizona on Feb. 4.

In four games now against those two foes, Penoncello is averaging 13.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, while making 63 percent of his shots overall and 67 percent from three-point range (10-of-15). Four of his first five double-figure scoring performances came versus NAU and Sac State, while his only other came in Eastern's season-opener against Pacific Lutheran. He finished the year with nine games scoring in double figures.

Penoncello, a 2004 graduate of Moscow, Idaho, High School who redshirted the 2004-05 season, averaged 6.6 points for the season and 7.9 in league play. He made the first start of his career at Brigham Young on Dec. 27, then took over full-time as a starter at Portland State on Jan. 14.

Eagles Seek Improvement and Get It in Huge Wins: Improvement from previous meetings earlier this season was the focal point for Eastern in February. And the Eagles received what they sought, beating Sacramento State and Northern Arizona in a pair of 12-point victories.

In an 88-69 loss at Sacramento State on Jan. 7, the Hornets forced 23 turnovers. Sac State scored 29 points off Eagle turnovers and had 14 offensive rebounds. In the rematch, Eastern had just 12 turnovers and allowed only 16 points off of them.

Although Eastern won by 12, the Sac State rematch was one of Eastern's closest games of the year as it featured a season-high 12 ties as well as 16 lead changes. Rodney Stuckey, Matt Penoncello and Deuce Smith combined for 63 points in the Eagle victory, including 45 of Eastern's 49 points in the second half. Both Penoncello and Smith scored 18 points each.

On Jan. 5, Eastern lost 105-95 at NAU as Stuckey made his first Big Sky Conference men's basketball game memorable with a school-record 45 points. But the game was forgettable defensively as Eastern allowed its most points in its last 207 games and allowed NAU to make 66 percent from the floor. In the rematch -- a 44-point defensive turnaround -- Eastern held the Lumberjacks to 36 percent shooting. Stuckey led four Eagles in double figures with 28 points after scoring 27 one game earlier versus Sac Sate.

Eastern made 56 percent of its shots from the field in the first game against the Lumberjacks en route to finishing with its most points since beating Idaho State 100-73 on Jan. 29, 2004. But Eastern hadn't allowed that many points since Cal Poly beat the Eagles 106-75 on Dec. 17, 1998. It was the most points allowed in a Big Sky game since losing at Weber State 106-83 on Feb. 22, 1996.

Stuckey Wins Fourth Player of the Week Honor: Just 22 games into his collegiate career, and Rodney Stuckey already reached a milestone that took another Eastern Washington University men's basketball great 118 games to accomplish.

Eastern's sensational freshman earned Big Sky Conference Player of the Week accolades for the fourth time this season, equaling the school's career record of four set by Alvin Snow from 2001-04. Snow, who earned honorable mention All-America honors in 2004 when he led Eastern to the NCAA Tournament, was honored for the first time as a sophomore, twice as a junior and once as a senior.

Stuckey, a 2004 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., was honored after scoring 55 points in EWU's 12-point victories over a pair of teams ahead of it in the conference standings. The Eagles beat Sacramento State 87-75 on Feb. 2 before knocking off previous Big Sky unbeaten Northern Arizona 73-61.

Stuckey scored 27 versus Sacramento State to earn the Eagles a fourth-place tie with the Hornets in the league standings. He then scored 28 and had a career-high eight rebounds as Eastern snapped NAU's 10-game winning streak -- the longest in NCAA Division I at the time. The Eagles held NAU to 61 points -- a 44-point turnaround from a 105-95 loss in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Jan. 5.

Although he made just 39.5 percent of his field goal attempts, Stuckey sank 23-of-28 free throws (.821) and averaged 6.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game as the Eagles improved to 5-4 in league play and 10-12 overall.

Stuckey was selected as Big Sky Player of the Week four times in the first 12 weeks the honor has been awarded. He won his first after he scored 30 points and had five assists in Eastern's win at UC Riverside on Dec. 10. He was honored again after averaging 22.0 points in games versus eighth-ranked Gonzaga on Dec. 19 and Cal Poly on Dec. 23. His third accolade came following a 31-point effort at Portland State on Jan. 14.

"When you win an award like that during the conference season, it usually means your team has won both games and the player has played very well in winning those games," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "So I almost look at the player of the week award as a team award when it is handed out during the conference season. For that, I'm sure Rodney and our team is very appreciative."

Steve and Jan Spacek Honored on Feb. 4: For nothing more than a few perks and a pop, Steve Spacek has been the loyal and reliable man behind the score clock at Eastern Washington University men's and women's basketball games for nearly three decades.

For those counting at home, that's roughly 600 games worth of college basketball from what he considers to be the best seat in the house -- floor level at exactly mid-court at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. And when coupled with his wife Jan Spacek, who has operated the scoreboard by his side since 1989, that's 44 years worth of faithful and loyal service through the thick and thin of Eagle Basketball.

Steve and Jan were honored on Feb. 4 when Eastern hosted Northern Arizona. Family and friends returned to honor Steve, who is battling terminal bone cancer. A post-game reception also turned into a post-game celebration as the Eagles ended the NCAA Division I-leading 10-game winning streak of the Lumberjacks, who were 8-0 in the league at the time.

Their service to EWU reaches far beyond the scoreboard. Both have served two decades as timers at Eastern track and field meets. Plus, Steve was a charter member of the Eagle Athletic Association when it was formed in the 1983-84 school year, and has been on the selection committee for the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame ever since it started in 1996. He and Jan were also honored as EAA Boosters of the Year.

Steve spent more than 40 years as a professor in the Eastern education department after coming to Cheney in 1958 -- including nearly 10 years as director of student-teachers. He started running the game clock in the 1979-80 season.

Rested Eagles Follow Difficult Stretch With Solid Road Win: A little rest went a long way as Eastern Washington snapped a five-game losing streak with an impressive 89-70 victory at Portland State on Jan. 14. It was the only game of the week for the Eagles as they made 61 percent of their shots from the field while holding the Vikings to 45 percent. The victory ended a season-opening three-game road stretch for EWU in league play.

Prior to the road win, the Eagles dropped to 5-10 overall with their fifth-straight loss in an 88-69 loss at Sacramento State on Jan. 7. Two days earlier, Eastern allowed its most points in its last 207 games as the Eagles fell 105-95 at Northern Arizona.

Eastern allowed an average of 92.6 points per game during its losing skid, all coming in a 12-day span. Four of them were on the road as Eastern fell 97-66 at Brigham Young, were edged 76-72 at Boise State and then lost at home to a well-rested San Diego squad 97-78.

Eastern entered league play with just five non-conference wins. But in 2003-04 when EWU advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, the Eagles were just 4-9 in non-conference games. Eastern finished 11-3 in league play that season to win the regular season title and then hosted and won the Big Sky Conference Tournament.

Eastern has been picked to finish sixth by the coaches and seventh by the media in pre-season polls. Last year, the Eagles were picked to win before finishing sixth with a 5-9 league record and closed the year 8-20 overall. Montana State is picked to win this year's league title in both polls, followed by Montana and Sacramento State.

Eagles Versus Ranked Teams: Eastern is now 1-10 versus nationally-ranked teams -- including three games in the 2004-05 season alone as well as three the year before. Five of the 11 games versus ranked teams came under Ray Giacoletti from 2000-2004.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Crowds: The 11,879 fans that watched Eastern's near-upset of Gonzaga on Dec. 19 in the Spokane Arena was the 14th time since the 2000-01 season that Eastern has played in front of crowds in excess of 10,000 fans.

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 (Eastern's game at Washington the last two seasons had crowds of 9,418 in 2004 and 9,876 in 2005). 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 14 of those games. Here is a list of those crowds:

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

Eagles Put Together Three-Game Winning Streak: The Eagles put together a three-game winning streak in early December thanks to defense. The streak began with a pair of impressive victories over Idaho and Cal State Northridge in which the Eagles allowed a total of just 103 points in a 68-55 victory over the Vandals and 70-48 win over the Matadors. Eastern then followed that with an 85-70 victory over an up-tempo UC Riverside squad on Dec. 10.

The Eagles held Cal State Northridge to nearly 40 points below its season average as the Matadors entered the game with a 4-1 record and a scoring average of 87.6 per game. Mike Efevberha, CSN's leading scorer with a 26.0 average, was held to eight points on 2-of-10 shooting. Eastern held the Matadors to 29 percent shooting in the game, including 27 percent in the first half when the Eagles opened up a 38-21 lead at intermission. Eastern had nine blocked shots as a team.

Prior to the winning streak, Eastern had allowed an average of 77.3 in its previous three games -- all losses -- at the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska, on Nov. 23-26.

Eagles Lose Three in Alaska: Except for knowledge of some areas of concern, the Eagles came away empty with a trio of losses at the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout in which the Eagles faced three extremely athletic and talented teams. Eastern lost 83-73 to eventual tourney champion Marquette in its opener, then lost in the consolation bracket to Southern California 69-51 and Southern Illinois 80-72. The Marquette and Southern Illinois games were closer than the final score indicated.

"We definitely learned the things we have to work on," said Burns. "But to be able to compete with Marquette like we did was refreshing to see. And so was being able to battle Southern Illinois down to the end. To be able to compete with those kind of teams was a good sign. Now we have to get over the hump and win those games. We've learned from that trip that on any given night we can play with just about anybody if we bring the focus, effort and intensity that is needed. That is great to know."

And if not for some shoddy free throw shooting in the opener (18-of-34 for 53 percent), a lackadaisical start in the next game and a 37-point effort from SIU's Jamaal Tatum in the third game, the Eagles could have easily come away with a couple of victories.

"When you get into those kind of games you have to make your free throws and we were unable to do it against Marquette, and that probably cost us the victory," said Burns. "In our next game, the team that came out with the greatest effort was going to have the greatest advantage, and SC did that. Southern Illinois was a really hard-fought game, but we made a couple of defensive errors against Tatum and that allowed him to get going. He was absolutely on fire, and you can't let a player of that caliber get going like that."

Eastern Now 12-62 Versus the Pacific 10 Conference: With losses to Washington each of the last three seasons and a 1-7 record all-time against the Huskies, Eastern is now 12-62 all-time versus current members of the Pacific 10 Conference.

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 win.

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 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). Including an 11-50 record versus Washington State and 1-6 mark versus the Huskies, Eastern is now 12-61 versus the Pacific 10 Conference.

 

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