Eastern looks to stay undefeated in Big Sky Conference play as they host Montana and Montana State this Friday and Saturday
Date - Opponent - Time/Pacific
Jan. 8 - Montana - 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 9 - Montana State - 7:05 p.m.
Eagle Webcasts . . .
All of Eastern Washington's women's basketball games at home, as well as all Big Sky Conference games, will be available to view, free of charge, at www.bigskytv.org.
By Keenan Bowen, EWU Sports Information
The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team got off to a great start in Big Sky Conference play on Dec. 31 with a road win at Sacramento State. But to continue it, the Eagles will have to get through both Montana and Montana State this Friday (Jan. 8) and Saturday (Jan. 9) in back-to-back games at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. Both games will begin at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time.
Eastern enters Friday's game 7-6 overall and 1-0 in the Big Sky. Eastern defeated the Hornets 90-85 as four Eagles scored in double figures.
Despite losing four players and three starters from last season's Big Sky championship team, the Montana Grizzlies are looking to continue to be a force in the conference. The Grizzlies are 6-7 on the season and started 1-0 in conference play after a 73-67 victory over Weber State on Jan. 2. Montana is led in both scoring and rebounds by Sarah Ena, who is pouring in 11.1 points per game and is pulling down 5.8 boards per contest.
The Grizzlies feature a tough defense, holding opponents to an average of 60.7 points per game on 38 percent shooting from the field including 27 percent from three-point range. Montana also leads the conference in rebounds per game (36.5) and free throw percentage (74 percent).
"Montana is a youthful team this year and has spent much of the non-conference schedule growing into new roles," said head coach Wendy Schuller. "They are well coached and have a lot of talent, and it's obvious of late that they have started to play well together."
"We know coming in that they will rebound and defend," she added. "It will be important for us to be able to force the action on the defensive end of the floor. Offensively we need to be efficient and take and convert good shots."
The match-up with Montana State could end up being a high-scoring affair, as both the Eagles and the Bobcats are in the top half of the conference's scoring offense and field goal percentage statistical categories. The Bobcats shoot a Big Sky-leading 42.6 percent from the field and average 71 points per game.
The Bobcats have started 1-1 in the conference and are coming off a 77-73 overtime loss against Idaho State at home on Jan. 2. Montana State is 8-7 overall and is led by senior point guard Erica Perry, who leads the team in assists and steals while averaging nine points a game. Sarah Strand averages 13 points and a team-high 6.1 rebounds per game, and Katie Bussey leads the Bobcats with a 13.6 scoring average.
"Montana State is one of the most experienced teams in the league and is led by an outstanding veteran point guard in Erica Perry," said Schuller. "They had a very successful non-conference slate and we expect them to carry that confidence over into Big Sky play. Montana State really pushes the tempo and our ability to defend in transition will be vital to our success."
Back-to-Back Games: In a league-wide cost-cutting measure, schools will be playing more back-to-back games -- as is the case in this upcoming homestand for the Eagles.
"It will be our first experience playing back-to-back days, so we'll have to be able to re-focus quickly after Friday night's game," said Schuller. "Our preparation will most likely be less detailed and it will be important for us to focus more than anything on doing what we do well."
"We have great depth and that will help us with back-to-back games, especially as we get deeper into conference play."
That includes playing back-to-back games in different cities as well. After a match-up in Portland, Ore., against Portland State on Jan. 8, Montana State will have to make their way to Reese Court for their 7:05 p.m. contest with the Eagles on Jan. 9.
Off on the Right Foot: The Eagles went into their Big Sky opener on Dec. 31 at Sacramento State riding a three-game losing streak, but they were able to get back on track when it mattered most -- in conference play.
Eastern, now 7-6 overall, defeated the Hornets 90-85 as four Eagles scored in double figures, including the second double-double in a row for guard Brianne Ryan (12 points, 10 rebounds). Point guard Jessica Huntington turned in one of her most impressive performances of the season with nine points, 10 assists and seven rebounds.
"We were very pleased with the Sacramento State win," said Schuller. "Anytime you can win on the road in this league it is a good thing."
"Sacramento State is talented and plays a very different style -- I was pleased with our team's ability to adapt and to follow our game plan. It was a win that I think we can also attribute to some lessons we learned from our non-conference schedule."
Senior Leadership: Head Coach Wendy Schuller has been impressed with the progression and leadership of senior starting point guard Jessica Huntington. She is averaging 6.7 points a game along with a team-high 4.6 assists, and ranks first in the Big Sky with a 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio. Her 60 assists rank fourth in the conference.
"Huntington has really become a scorer for us," said Schuller. "She'll get to the rim and shoot the three, and is just playing with a lot of confidence."
Second-Year Players Making Strides: Second-year players have been a bright spot early on for the Eagles, with true sophomore guards Brianne Ryan and Chene Cooper taking their game to another level.
"Cooper has really matured this season in terms of taking care of the ball and decision-making," said Eastern head coach Wendy Schuller. "She still does a great job of pushing the tempo for us and creating things as she did last season, but this year she is doing that a little more under control and making good choices."
Cooper is averaging 7.2 points a game off the bench, including back-to-back games in which she scored a team-high 17 in a win against Memphis and 14 against Gonzaga. She also averages 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
"Ryan has really rounded out nicely this season -- she is a good rebounder and is turning into our defensive stopper," said Schuller. "We know we can put her on the opponent's perimeter shooter, and with her speed, length and hard play, that she'll do a great job."
Ryan has started all 13 games this season and is averaging 8.4 points per game, along with 4.7 rebounds and a team-high 1.7 steals per game.
Eastern Basketball -- http://goeags.com/sports/w-baskbl/index
Big Sky Conference Basketball -- http://bigskyconf.com/sport.asp?path=wbball&tab=womens
NCAA Basketball -- http://www.ncaa.com/sports/w-baskbl/ncaa-w-baskbl-body.html
ESPN College Scoreboard -- http://scores.espn.go.com/ncw/scoreboard
Coach Schuller's Website -- http://www.coachschuller.com/
Coach Schuller's Twitter -- http://twitter.com/EWUCoachSchu
More Information and Links are Available at: HTTP://WWW.GOEAGS.COM
Recent EWU Women's Basketball Headlines . . .
December 31, 2009 - Eagles Swat Hornets in 90-85 Shootout
December 29, 2009 - Eagles Open Big Sky Play at Sacramento State
December 21, 2009 - Eagles Lose Close Contest with Titans 58-55
December 19, 2009 - Anteaters Drop Eagles In Irvine
December 16, 2009 - Eagles Close Deficit But Fall to Mustangs
December 15, 2009 - Eagles Face Cal Poly at Reese Court Before Road Trip
December 12, 2009 - Eagles Bury Orediggers 87-60
December 7, 2009 - Eastern Takes on Montana Tech After Short Break for Finals
December 4, 2009 - Eagles Fly Through Matadors 68-50
EWU Basketball Highlights . . .
- The Eagles have advanced to the Big Sky Conference semifinals three of the past eight years.
- For the last eight years, Eastern has ranked among the top 10 teams nationally in the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Academic Top 25 Honor Roll. In 2003-04, Eastern had the top grade point average in the country, 3.63. In 2008-09 EWU ranked ninth (3.42).
- Two Eagles have attained ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America second team honors - Joanna Chadd in 2006-07 and Kathleen Nygaard in 2003-04.
The past eight seasons, 67 players have earned Big Sky All-Academic honors, the most in the league.
Eagle Returning Letter Winners . . .
Julie Piper attained the most impressive recognition for the Eagles during her sophomore season in 2008-09, as she earned All-Big Sky honorable mention accolades. She also ranked highly in the league's statistical rankings, placing fifth in free throw shooting (78.3 percent), sixth in rebounds per game (6.8) and 18th in points per game (11.1). Her shooting from the charity stripe also placed her 130th among NCAA Division I players and was the eighth-best in Eastern history. She will enter her junior campaign second in EWU history for career free throw shooting percentage (76.0). She had the best scoring output by an Eagle in the 2008-09 season, scoring 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting in Eastern's battle with Big Sky runner-up Portland State on Jan. 24. Piper also set the team pace in rebounds in 18 different contests.
Kyla Evans continued her attack on the Eastern record books as a sophomore. She made 60 three-point baskets, the fifth-highest single-season total ever recorded by an Eagle, and moved her career sum to 112, good for fifth place. In fact, the sophomore's current career three-point shooting percentage of 38.4 is on pace to set the school record. Evans placed 82nd nationally in three-point shooting percentage (36.1) and 100th in three-point baskets per game (2.07). She was third and eighth in those respective categories in the Big Sky ranks. She made 6-of-10 in a 90-75 win over Montana State on Jan. 29 to help the Eagles to within one of the school record of three-point makes in a game (EWU shot 13-of-27 from beyond the arc in that contest). Evans showed her prowess in the classroom, as well, earning ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District 8 first team accolades. She was also the EWU Scholar-Athlete of the Month for December.
Nicole Scott had an outstanding junior season, as well, and the best display of her skills came on Dec. 13 against Pacific that helped her earn Co-Big Sky Player of the Week honors. In that contest, Scott nailed all six of her shots, including three treys, in the best shooting performance by an Eagle since Felice Moore also went 6-of-6 at Montana State on March 6, 2004. Additionally, Scott crafted an impressive streak of consecutive free throws made with 29 straight from Nov. 25-Feb. 7, just two shy of being one of the 22 longest such streaks in Division I history. She led the league in free throw shooting in Big Sky games by converting on 86.5 percent of her attempts (32-of-37). She was also an intimidating force inside, placing sixth in the conference in blocks per game (0.97).
Jessica Huntington was one of the steadiest point guards in the country in her junior season, as her assist-turnover ratio of 1.85 (94-to-50) was the tops in the Big Sky and 23rd best among Division I players. She also averaged 3.24 assists per game, placing seventh in that category among league players. She converted 40.7 of her three-point attempts (22-of-54), the sixth-best average in Eastern Washington history.
Tatjana Sparavalo also had some impressive performances during her sophomore season. She scored 15 in a challenging road game versus UNLV and shot at a high level against Portland on Dec. 15, making 5-of-9 attempts from the floor. In addition, Sparavalo had six of Eastern's points during a game-changing 18-3 run in a victory over Weber State on Jan. 10.
Brianne Ryan started 19 games as a freshman and saw her shooting percentages rise once league play commenced, markedly in the three-point category. She shot 27.3 percent from the arc in non-conference games (9-of-33) and 45.2 percent in league contests (14-of-31).
Chene Cooper also played well as a freshman in 2008-09. Her aggressive nature showed in her steals per game average of 1.62, seventh-best in the Big Sky. She also placed 12th in assists per contest with 2.41. In addition, she improved her shot-selection and shot-conversion skills throughout the season, making just 28.3 percent of her attempts through the first 22 games before converting on 41.3 percent over the last seven games.
Breauna Russell played in 16 games as an Eastern freshman in 2008-09, finishing the year with 16 points and 11 steals.
About Head Coach Wendy Schuller . . .
Under head coach Wendy Schuller, the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team has reached heights unseen in Cheney in decades, both on and off the basketball court.
Over the past eight campaigns, the team has been ranked amongst the top 10 squads on the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Academic Top 25 Honor Roll, something only achieved by one other team (Indiana State). The Eagle squad of 2003-04 placed first nationally with a 3.63 grade point average.
Schuller led Eastern to back-to-back .500-or-better regular-season Big Sky Conference records for the first time in school history (2004-05 and 2005-06) as well as tournament appearances in five of her eight seasons at EWU. To put that achievement into perspective, Eastern Washington played in just five BSC Tournaments in its first 13 years of Big Sky play.
Since the Big Sky began sponsoring women's sports in 1988-89, the Eagles have compiled two overall winning seasons and five trips to the Big Sky Conference Tournament semifinals. Both of those winning marks came during Schuller's time on the Eastern campus, as did three of the five conference semifinal appearances.
Schuller and the Eagles have made Reese Court a challenging place for visitors to play, as Eastern has compiled a commanding 38-29 mark (.567 winning percentage) in its last 67 games played there. Eastern went 8-6 at home last year en route to recording 2.5 times as many overall wins as was attained the previous year, 10.
In 2005-06, Eastern Washington qualified for the Big Sky Conference Championship for the seventh consecutive season and was the fourth seed at the event for the second straight season, its highest seeding since the 1994-95 campaign.
She led Eastern to a winning campaign in 2004-05 (16-12) to start just the team's second set of consecutive winning seasons for the Eagles since the 1986-87 and 1987-88 campaigns.
The 2003-04 season saw Eastern Washington qualify for the BSC Tournament semifinal round for the third straight season.
In 2002-03, Eastern had its first winning campaign in 16 years at 17-12 and came the closest to making the Big Sky championship game in school history, falling in the semifinal round to top seed and host Weber State by just nine points, 64-55.
In Schuller's first season of 2001-02, Eastern Washington claimed a tournament quarterfinal contest as the fifth seed for the first of two straight seasons. The Eagles topped No. 4 Northern Arizona 70-57 to mark its furthest advancement in the tournament in seven years.
Prior to arriving at Eastern, Schuller began her coaching career at Northwestern State University. In 1993, she started coaching as a graduate assistant for the Lady Demons while earning a master's degree in sports administration.
Following graduation, she became a full-time assistant, and her duties included acting as defensive coordinator and primary recruiter and working with opponent preparation and general operations.
In 1997, she was promoted to associate head coach.
Her last six years at the Natchitoches, La., school saw her also serve as the senior woman administrator.
In total, Schuller coached for nine seasons at NSU under head coach James Smith, the most successful coach in Southland Conference history.
In that time span, the team won 185 games and two conference titles and earned a pair of wins over top-25 teams as one of the top-30 winningest NCAA Division I programs of the 1990s.
Schuller earned her bachelor's degree in business in 1992 from Fresno Pacific University after playing for the Sunbirds as a shooting guard.
Her senior season, she helped lead FPU to a 25-6 record, a No. 14 national ranking in the NAIA ranks and advancement to the NAIA Tournament's Round of 16. She was also selected as an NAIA Academic All-American that season.
A native of Redlands, Calif., Schuller and her husband, Mark, have an 9-year-old son, Rory (born Oct. 16, 2000), and a 6-year-old daughter, Megan (born July 15, 2003). The family resides in Cheney.