Eagles Host Idaho Thursday in Final Tuneup

Dec. 18, 2006

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"Swoop" will be healthy and in action this week. But the question is, will guards Rodney Stuckey and Marcus Hinton be healthy for the Eagles, and guard Keoni Watson for the opposition?

After the two lowest-scoring games of his career -- due largely to back spasms that held him to four minutes of action in his last outing -- Stuckey and his Eastern Washington University men's basketball teammates host Idaho Thursday (Dec. 21). Tipoff is 7:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court in the final non-conference game for EWU before starting Big Sky Conference action.

Thursday is "Santa Swoop Night" at Reese Court. Fans can get a free picture with EWU's mascot "Swoop" when they bring two cans of food for donation to the Second Harvest Food Drive.

The Eagles enter Thursday's game with a 5-6 record after losses last week at Santa Clara (91-68) and Oregon (104-74). Eastern's six losses have come to teams that have compiled a collective record of 49-14 entering the week, with five of them 8-3 or better.

The Vandals are 1-9 with an eight-game losing streak under first-year head coach George Pfeifer. The lone victory for the Vandals was a 74-66 win at South Dakota State on Nov. 16. The latest setback came on Dec. 16 by a 79-69 score at North Dakota State.

Guard Keoni Watson leads the Vandals with a 16.7 scoring average, but he suffered a sprained ankle and scored just six points in 10 minutes versus North Dakota State. Picking up the scoring slack was Darin Nagle, who scored 20 points in his Vandal debut.

Besides Stuckey's ailing back, Hinton has missed the last three games with a foot injury of his own. Burns said on Monday (Dec. 18) that he expects Stuckey to play on Thursday. Hinton remains "day-to-day" and is questionable for the Idaho matchup.

Both players are able to get plenty of time to heal as EWU goes six days without a game before taking on Idaho. This is only the second gameless stretch of more than four days for EWU since the season began on Nov. 10.

"This is a good stretch for us," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns, whose team gets another seven days off after the Idaho game. "We kind of scheduled it that way. We have the guarantee games out of the way and now we can have four or five days to go back and really work on things we need to work on."

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 now is (Gonzaga). Another loss came to a UNLV squad that knocked off nationally-ranked and previously unbeaten Nevada. Those four teams are a collective 35-6 thus far (UO 10-0, UW 8-1, GU 9-3, UNLV 8-2). Eastern's other losses were to 9-3 Santa Clara and 6-5 Cal State Northridge.

"When you play Oregon, Washington, Gonzaga and UNLV on the road you find out where your warts are," said Burns. "We'll go back and work those things and hopefully we'll be ready to give a great effort against Idaho at home. We'll be amped up for that one, and then right after Christmas conference play starts."

Rodney Stuckey continues to fuel Eastern's offense with an average of 23.1 points per game, but that is down from his average of 26.7 through games of Dec. 10 when he ranked third in NCAA Division I. He was held to a career-low 12 versus Santa Clara and had just two against Oregon. He played the first four minutes of the game against the Ducks, but left the game for good with back spasms that bothered him much of the week.

Up until the Santa Clara game, he had led Eastern in scoring in 37-straight games, a year-long streak that started against Idaho on Nov. 30, 2005, and ended on Dec. 11, 2006. Those are his two-lowest scoring games of his 41-game career as his season scoring average has slipped to 23.1 and his career average to 23.9.

 

Looking Ahead: Last week's game at unbeaten Oregon concluded a four-game road stretch for the Eagles, who don't play another road game until Jan. 4. Eastern hosts Idaho on Dec. 21, takes a short break for Christmas, then starts Big Sky Conference play at home on Dec. 28 and 30 versus Montana State and Montana, respectively. All three games begin at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

Eastern's game versus the Bobcats on Dec. 28 is Cheney Free Press Family "Feast at Reese" Night. Fans can purchase popcorn, Pepsi and hot dogs for $1 each. Also, a half-price family admission price is available with a family of two adults and up to three children admitted for $9.

The Montana game on Dec. 30 is Global Credit Union night. The first 2,000 fans through the door get an Eagle pom-pom courtesy of Global Credit Union.

After those two home games, Eastern plays eight of its next 10 away from home during a road-heavy schedule in January and early February. The road stretch begins Jan. 4 at Northern Colorado in a game expected to be televised live in the Spokane area on KSKN Channel 22 starting at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time. Eastern's final four conference games are at home at Reese Court.

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.

 

Narrow Defeats: Three 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.

Eastern allowed Washington to score 19 second-chance points on 17 offensive rebounds. Cal State Northridge had 14 offensive rebounds and finished with 23 second-chance points, and also scored 31 points off 20 EWU turnovers. In the loss to UNLV, Eastern had 22 turnovers which led to 25 Runnin' Rebel points.

"Those are three games we could have won," said Burns. "If we do a better job keeping opponents off the glass and do a better job executing our offense down the stretch, we probably win. Hopefully we'll learn our lessons from those mistakes."


 

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

The Eagles have averaged 86.7 points per game this season for an early pace that, at least for now, is just behind the school record of 90.0 set by the 1971-72 team. The 1970-71 squad averaged 86.3 and in 1975-76 Eastern averaged 85.2. The last time Eastern scored or allowed points in the 80's came in 1990-91 when the Eagles averaged 80.9 and allowed 82.0.

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

Eastern registered a 110-100 shootout victory at home on Nov. 27 over Cal State Fullerton. Eastern's 110 points were the 13th-most in school history and the third-most versus a NCAA Division I opponent. The only other times Eastern scored more versus a D-I opponent were both against U.S. International (118-83 on Feb. 2, 1991 and 116-82 on Feb. 8, 1986). The combined 210 points made it the fifth-highest scoring game in school history. The record is 225 in a 118-107 loss to Carroll College on Dec. 8, 1967.

During the 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 85.2 points per game and already has given up three 100-point performances. The school record for points allowed came in the 1967-68 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).

 

Early Big Sky Returns: Through games played Dec. 17 in the Big Sky Conference, the Eagles lead the league in scoring (86.8) and are last in scoring defense (85.2).

Individually, Rodney Stuckey leads in scoring (23.1) and free throw percentage (.880, 66-of-75), and is second in steals (2.3) and third in assists (4.5). Paul Butorac is 15th in scoring (13.0), third in rebounding overall (8.3), first in defensive rebounds (6.0), fourth in field goal shooting (.603) and second in blocked shots (1.3). Omar Krayem is 14th in scoring (13.1), 12th in assists (3.2), sixth in three-point percentage (.449, 22-of-49) and eighth in three-pointers made per game (2.2).

Three Eagles rank in the top 11 in field goal shooting (Butorac, Derek Risper 6th/.561, Kellen Williams (11th/.534) as Eastern ranks second in the league as a team (.491). Risper, who made just 10-of-30 free throws as a junior last season, is 11th in the league in free throw percentage thus far (.694, 25-of-36).

 

Stuckey Up to 10 Games with 30 Points or More: Sophomore Rodney Stuckey, with a career scoring average of 23.9 points in 41 career games, already has five of the top 20 scoring games in school history. Ten times in his career he has topped 30 points, including four of 11 games this season.

However, 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 it was the first time in Eastern's last 37 games -- a streak that lasted more than a year -- that he was not 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. That was the first time in his then 41-game career he had not scored in double figures.

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 37-straight games until finishing with just 12 against Santa Clara on Dec. 11, 2006.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Now with 83 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 75 career dunks, including 15 already this season. He had five at Cal State Northridge on Dec. 3.

A career 56.8 percent shooter, 75 of Butorac's 254 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.

Butorac had a 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.

 

Turnovers Have Been Problem in Losses: Turnovers have been a bugaboo for the Eagles thus far -- both from the careless variety and as the result of the fast-paced style of play they are trying to utilize. In its six losses, Eastern is averaging 19.2 turnovers (115 total), and opponents have 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.

 

Now, Offensive Rebounds are Also Reason to Worry: When Eastern's opponent has missed shots lately, it's been about a 50-50 proposition whether or not the Eagles are going to secure the rebound. In its last three games, Eastern has been out-rebounded by 31 (10.3 per game) and has allowed opponents to grab 55 offensive rebounds (18.3 per game) compared to just 62 defensive boards for the Eagles. The results have been 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 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


 

SERIES HISTORY

EWU vs. Idaho Series History: Eastern trails in the all-time series 10-37, but won the last meeting between the two schools last season in Moscow, Idaho, by a 58-55 score. Eastern won four-straight games in the series from Nov. 29, 1999, to Dec. 7, 2002, but that was nothing compared to Idaho's nearly 10-year winning streak. The Vandals won 22-straight games against the Eagles from Nov. 28, 1986, to Feb. 17, 1996, including a 65-62 buzzer beater in the 1990 Big Sky Conference Tournament championship game. The streak was finally snapped with a 66-53 Eagle home win on Nov. 29, 1999.

Last Year - Eastern Washington 68, Idaho 55: Freshman Rodney Stuckey scored 18 points and sophomore Jake Beitinger had 16 as Eastern Washington used a late burst of offense and defense to defeat Idaho 68-55 on Nov. 30, 2005, at the Cowan Spectrum in Moscow, Idaho.

With the score knotted at 47 with 9:06 left, Eastern went on a 10-0 run to pull ahead and register its second win of the season.

"It was huge because we have a young ball club," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns, whose team has just one senior. "At the end of the day you need to win. And to get a road win at a very tough place to play is huge for us. It was definitely a confidence builder."

Beitinger made 6-of-9 shots from the floor as the Eagles dominated inside. Sophomore forward Kellen Williams added 11 points as Eastern made 57 percent of its shots in the second half while holding Idaho to 36 percent. Eastern made 10 of its last 15 field goals and its last 10 free throws, and finished the game at 49 percent from the floor compared to 43 percent for Idaho.

"For our players to have the ability to grind it out is a credit to them," said Burns. "Having the ability to grind out wins is so much of what we've talked to them about. When it was close in the second half they did a great job of grinding every possession offensive and defensively. That was the difference for us."

Eastern also out-rebounded the Vandals 34-20, and allowed Idaho to grab just five offensive rebounds. In a trio of losses at the Great Alaska Shootout, Eastern was out-rebounded by an average of 6.3 per game, and allowed opponents to grab 44 offensive rebounds (14.7 per game).

"It's an adjustment our players have made, but it wasn't anything we've done on the practice floor or something mentally," explained Burns. "It was just something we had to do, and it goes back to having that ability to grind. I'm proud as heck with the way they went after the ball, especially late in the game. When you have a lead, you have to keep people in front of you and force them to take guarded shots. We did that, and then you have to grab the long rebounds and we were able to do that as well."

Eastern had 19 turnovers -- its season average -- but that didn't concern Burns very much. Eastern had assists on 14 of 23 baskets, compared to three of 20 for Idaho.

"We don't want to turn it over that many times, but I would say probably eight of those went right through our hands," he said. "We were just hurrying a little bit and were a little anxious. I think in the last three minutes of the game we probably didn't have any. We got that lead, we were composed and we hung on."

The Eagles jumped out to an early 21-8 lead, but went cold after that to allow Idaho to make up the deficit. The Vandals went on a 17-7 run, making 7-of-9 shots from the field during that stretch while Eastern made just 2-of-10.

The game was tied at 31 at intermission, then Idaho took its first lead early in the second half at 36-34. At that point, Eastern had made just three of its last 21 shots.

"That was definitely better defense by Idaho," said Burns. "They started jamming our screens and tried to extend us on the perimeter. In the second half we went to a little motion game where we were able to capitalize inside with Jake, Paul (Butorac), Kellen and Henry. I'm proud as heck of our effort tonight."

With the game tied at 47, Eastern took the lead for good on a tip-in by freshman Matt Penoncello, a 2004 graduate of Moscow, Idaho, High School who redshirted at EWU the previous season. Paul Butorac followed with a basket, Stuckey hit two free throws and Beitinger capped the 10-0 run with a pair of baskets.

Junior Rhett Humphrey hit a huge three-pointer with three minutes left to give Eastern a 60-48 lead, and then the Eagles capped the win by making 8-of-8 free throws down the stretch.

 

MORE NOTES

Eagles Versus Ranked Teams: Eastern is now 1-12 versus nationally-ranked teams -- including three games in the 2004-05 season alone as well as three the year before. Seven of the 13 games have come under current head coach Mike Burns. Five others came under Ray Giacoletti from 2000-2004.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2006-07 Schedule Has Similar Feel: Eastern's 2006-07 schedule has a familiar ring to it as the Eagles take on the likes of Gonzaga, Washington, Oregon and UNLV - all on the road. Gonzaga and Washington, as well as Big Sky rival Montana, advanced to the NCAA Tournament where all three teams picked up first-round victories.

"We have always scheduled tough, and this year is no different," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "Those are not easy places to win basketball games. But we have a group that can go in there and physically compete against those teams. We're excited about that."

Eastern played an unprecedented eight games in November (including an exhibition game) as the NCAA moved-up the allowed season starting date by a week. From Nov. 18 to Nov. 29 the Eagles played five games, including four home games and a visit to Washington on Nov. 24.

Four-straight road games followed in December, with Eastern hosting Idaho on Dec. 21 prior to Christmas. However, because of the addition of Northern Colorado to the Big Sky, league play will begin before the new year begins. Eastern hosts Montana State on Dec. 28 and Montana on Dec. 30.

"We tried to make sure we had some time to rest as we get ready for conference play," Burns said of his December schedule. "It's tough starting off the conference race right after Christmas. The fortunate part is we start at home. I think our schedule allows us a chance to get better against some pretty good teams and ultimately get ourselves ready for conference play."

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2004 - Championship (Cheney, Wash.) - #1 seed vs. #2 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 Cal State Northridge - L, 98-104 (ot)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Eagles 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.

 

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: 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: 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 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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