Already Big Sky Champs, Eagles Can Win Title Outright This Saturday
Eastern can control own destiny with a victory over Portland State on Saturday
Date - Opponent - Time/Pacific
March 6 - Portland State - 2:05 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 has already clinched a share of the Big Sky Conference regular season title for the first time in school history. But they can still do one better.
The Eagles (18-10, 11-4 Big Sky) can win the title outright with a win over the Portland State Vikings Saturday (March 6) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. Game time is set for 2:05 p.m. If the Eagles win, they will host the Big Sky Conference Tournament (March 11-13) and will be the No. 1 seed.
"Portland State is a big game for a lot of reasons -- obviously, the opportunity to host the conference tournament and to win the outright conference title is our main incentive to win," said head coach Wendy Schuller. "I also think it's vital for us to go into the tournament on a positive note and feel good about how we are playing."
If the Eagles fail to earn a victory on Saturday against the Vikings and 9-5 Sacramento State wins its final two games, the Hornets will win the tiebreaker and host the tournament. If Sacramento State falls on the road at either Idaho State (Friday) or Weber State (Saturday), the Eagles will host regardless of the outcome of EWU's game versus PSU.
If the Eagles and Hornets tie, Sac State wins all tiebreaker scenarios. Because they split their two games head-to-head this season, the tiebreaker moves to record against the third-place finisher, which would be Portland State regardless of their potential ties with Montana and/or Montana State. In this scenario, the Eagles would have finished 0-2 against the Vikings while the Hornets split with PSU, giving Sac State the tiebreaker.
Along with being an important game, Saturday will also function as senior day for the two Eagle seniors on the roster -- point guard Jessica Huntington and forward Nicole Scott.
"Jessica and Nicole have been outstanding young women to coach over the last four years," said Schuller. "We have gone through a lot together and I know the team wants them to have a memorable senior day."
Portland State heads into Reese Court with a 15-13 overall record and a 9-6 record in Big Sky play. The Vikings defeated the Eagles in their first meeting this season in Portland, Ore., 67-60. Senior point guard Claire Faucher leads the Vikings, averaging 13.5 points per game and 6.5 assists per game. Erin Yankus leads the Vikings in rebounding averaging 5.9 boards per game to go along with 8.1 points.
"The Vikings are a very talented team," said Schuller. "Their guard play is outstanding and it all starts with their record-setting point guard, Claire Faucher. We'll have to do a solid job containing her first and foremost. When we defend well we always put ourselves in a position to win but I would like to see our offense step up to another level as we head into the end of the season."
Big Sky Champs: Despite failing to capture the regular season league title outright in their first attempt, the Eagles have still sealed at least a share of the first regular season Big Sky Championship in school history. Eastern was picked to finish seventh in the preseason polls (coaches and media), while Portland State was picked to win in both predictions.
"The Idaho State loss was tough because we lost a chance to win the league outright, but I also dislike the fact that it took some of the shine off of us clinching our first-ever title," said Schuller. "Our team believed in themselves when no one else did and I am so proud of the heart and effort put forward by them to accomplish this goal. We get great support from former players and their families, and it was special hearing from a number of them after the Weber State game."
39 From The Bench: Thanks to a late rally and the play of their bench, the Eagles avoided a loss Feb. 20 against the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks. The Eagles found themselves down 14 points with 5:24 remaining and proceeded to go on a 24-3 run in the final minutes to capture a 71-64 victory.
The victory was in large part due to Eastern's bench players, who contributed 39 points in the contest. Reserves Tatjana Sparavalo scored a game-high 21 points and Chene Cooper scored 18 points. Cooper also dished out six assists.
"This game was a great example that on any given night we have a variety of players who can step up for us," said Schuller. "Our bench is extremely important to our success. We get great energy from the bench both offensively and defensively."
The Rock: Junior forward Julie Piper has led the steady Eagles in scoring and rebounding all season, but the Roseburg, Ore., native stepped up her game in Big Sky play. Piper is averaging 12.1 points and eight rebounds a game in league games.
"Julie plays as hard as any player I have ever coached," said Schuller. "She has worked hard to have a great season and I think this weekend was just a reflection of her entire season. She has a great humility about her and will do anything for this team."
Evans Repeats: For the second-straight year, Kyla Evans from the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team has been named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII squad as selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA). The junior was selected to the second team after earning first team honors a year ago.
A 2007 graduate of Brewster (Wash.) High School, Evans has a 3.97 grade point average as a communication studies major with minors in government and leadership. She has previously been named to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team as a freshman and sophomore, and was honored as an Eastern Washington Scholar-Athlete of the Month for December 2008 and January 2010.
She also helped the Eagles to a fourth-place spot on the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Coaches Association Academic Honor Roll Top 25 as a freshman, and a No. 8 ranking as a sophomore. Eastern has been honored by the WBCA for eight-straight seasons.
Fear the Reese: The Eagles are 11-2 when playing at Reese Court this season. Eastern's home opener against Idaho on Nov. 19 turned into a thrilling, 54-51 overtime victory for Eastern. Eastern also turned in another overtime thriller against Big Sky rival Montana on Jan. 8, defeating the Grizzlies 67-64.
The only two losses at Reese Court this season for the Eagles came at the hands of Cal Poly on Dec. 16 and Sacramento State on Feb. 6.
"Defending our home court will continue to be vital in the second half of league play," said Schuller. "Our players seem to be energized when we play at home and the great crowds we have had lately have really fired us up to another level."
Breakin' Records: With their 77-65 victory over Weber State on Jan. 23, the Eagles surpassed the school record for best conference start in history.
"We are quite happy with our 7-0 start," said Schuller. "We weren't aware of the school record until that night and anything we can do to positively represent Eastern Washington University is something our team is proud to accomplish."
The Eagles tied the previous record of 6-0 with a victory over Idaho State on Friday (Jan. 22). The previous record of 6-0 was set during the 1984-85 season when the Eagles competed in the Mountain West Conference.
"This group of young women has worked extremely hard and continued to believe in themselves, each other and this program even when things didn't always go our way," said Schuller. "They are a true example of what perseverance and faith can do in your life."
Team Ball: Part of the Eagles success this season can be attributed to the team basketball Eastern has been playing. The Eagles have just one player, Julie Piper, who is averaging more than 10 points a game -- despite the fact that the Eagles feature one of the top scoring offenses in the conference.
By comparison, every other team in the top half of the conference has at least two players averaging 10 points or more a game.
"Our team talks a lot about winning as a team and one thing we really enjoy is sharing the credit," said Schuller. "Individual accolades aren't what this team is about. Everyone has a job and I think a huge part of our start can be attributed to players understanding their job and getting it done for the sake of the team."
Seven different Eagles have led the team in scoring in single games this season, and six different Eagles have led the team in rebounds. Also, seven different players are averaging at least six points per game.
Evans Shines: Junior Kyla Evans from Brewster, Wash., had quite the week from Jan. 18 though Jan. 24. The three-point ace started off her week with a solid performance against Idaho State on Jan. 22 with 11 points and four steals. Evans then had the top scoring performance of her career, scoring a career-high 24 points against Weber State one night later.
Her performances didn't go unnoticed by the Big Sky Conference, which named her the Big Sky Player of the Week. The award was the first for any EWU player this season and was the first in the three-year career for Evans.
Back-to-Back Games: In a league-wide cost-cutting measure, schools will be playing more back-to-back games. The Eagles finished 7-1 in back-to-back games this season.
"We have great depth and that will help us with back-to-back games, especially as we get deeper into conference play," said Schuller.
Losing Streak Broken: Eastern's 67-64 overtime victory over Montana on Jan. 8 was its first win in the series since the 2005-06 season, when the Eagles edged the Lady Griz 58-56 at Reese Court. The win on Jan. 8 broke a seven-game losing streak to the Lady Griz, who are the reigning Big Sky Conference champions.
"We knew coming in that Montana played a tough zone defense," said Schuller. "That gave us trouble especially early in the game and we were not attacking it the way we needed to be attacking. We made some adjustments and I thought our team did a nice job of making some key stops down the stretch."
Those key stops came in the way of turnovers by Montana down the stretch when Eastern held a one-point lead. Sarah Ena, who led Montana in scoring with 19 points, turned the ball over with 15 seconds remaining and Lauren Beck turned the ball over with five seconds left to put the game on ice for the Eagles.
Senior Leadership: Head coach Wendy Schuller has been impressed with the progression and leadership of senior starting point guard Jessica Huntington. She is averaging six points a game along with a team-high 3.6 assists.
"Huntington is as solid as a point guard gets," said Schuller. "She takes great care of the ball and has a great understanding of our system of play. Her greatest attribute is her work ethic - she has put a lot of time into making herself into such a solid player and as a coach it's reassuring to know that we will get everything she has every time she steps on the court."
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 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 8.4 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 1.9 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 28 games this season and is averaging 8.9 points per game, along with 4.4 rebounds and 1.5 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 . . .
February 27, 2010 - Bengals Edge Eagles 71-63
February 26, 2010 - Eagles Clinch at Least a Share of Big Sky Title
February 20, 2010 - Comeback Victory Gives Eagles Tenth Big Sky Win
February 19, 2010 - Eagles Secure Postseason Spot With Victory Over Bears
February 13, 2010 - Montana Drops Eagles 75-60
February 11, 2010 - Eagles Topple Bobcats 71-64
February 6, 2010 - Hornets Sting Eagles 78-69
February 5, 2010 - Kersee Lind and Kyla Evans are Scholar-Athletes of the Month
February 4, 2010 - Evans Repeats on Academic All-District Squad
February 3, 2010 - Eagles Fly Over Redhawks 67-50
January 30, 2010 - Eagles Fall At Portland State 67-60
January 25, 2010 - Evans Named Big Sky Player of the Week
January 23, 2010 - Eagles Earn Historic Victory Over Weber State 77-65
January 22, 2010 - Eagles Tame Bengals 70-60 To Remain Unbeaten In Big Sky
January 18, 2010 - Untouched Eagles Return Home for Two Games
January 16, 2010 - Eagles Sneak Past Bears 51-49
January 14, 2010 - Eagles Cut Down Lumberjacks 66-52
January 9, 2010 - Eagles Victorious Over Bobcats 69-63
January 8, 2010 - Eagles Best Lady Griz in Overtime Thriller 67-64
December 31, 2009 - Eagles Swat Hornets in 90-85 Shootout
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
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.