Eastern exhibits complete team effort in historic win at Dahlberg Arena
It's happened only three times in the history of Eastern Washington women's basketball. On Saturday (Feb. 26), the Eastern Washington University Eagles beat the University of Montana in Missoula, 71-63 - marking the first road victory over the Lady Griz in 24 years!
The last time EWU won in Missoula was in 1987 – Eastern's first year as a member of the Big Sky Conference. The Eags upset UM, 77-74, in the championship game of Big Sky tournament. The win on March 7, 1987 gave Eastern its first and only Big Sky tournament title to this day. Since then, the Eagles had lost 27-consecutive games in Missoula.
With the win Saturday, head coach Wendy Schuller became just the second coach, and the 2011 Eagles became the third team, in school history to beat Montana on its home floor. Former head coach Bill Smithpeters did it twice, once in 1980, and then again on that historic day in 1987.
"It is an incredible feeling," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "I will probably have to give Bill a call and share with him this experience. There are not too many of us at Eastern who know what it's like to win in Missoula. It is pretty special, especially for our seniors. We saw the team really rally behind the seniors today, and I am very happy they had a chance to experience this win before they went out."
With the win, Eastern improved to 12-15 on the season and 8-6 in league play. The Eagles, currently in fifth place in the Big Sky standings, have already earned a spot in the 2011 Big Sky tournament. Montana, who has also clinched a bid to the tourney for the 23rd straight year, is now only one game ahead of Eastern in the standings. The Lady Griz dropped to 9-5 in conference action and 14-13 overall. The Eagles and Grizzlies will meet again exactly one week from today (March 5) in the final game of the regular season, and senior night at Reese Court.
After shooting just 28 percent from the field on Thursday against Montana State, Eastern came out with a hot hand against the Grizzlies, converting 23-of-49 field goals for a 46.9 shooting percentage. Eastern knocked down eight three pointers, and went 17-of-19 from the free throw line.
Montana made just 35 percent of its shots, including a dismal 4-of-16 from long range.
"That was probably the best team basketball we have played all season, both offensively and defensively," commended Schuller. "We were unselfish, we had great energy from the bench and every player on the floor was focused and committed to her role. It was a great team victory."
The Eagles made five of their eight three pointers in the first half, including two off the hand of senior Kyla Evans. Eastern had built a slim 33-31 advantage before halftime.
Eastern missed its first four shots of the second half, enabling Montana to take over the lead at 42-39. But a made jumper by senior Julie Piper at 15:26 sparked a 12-2 run by the Eagles over the next four minutes. Montana's freshman guard Lexie Nelson drained back-to-back threes to pull the Lady Griz within six an 56-50, but the Eagles made 4-of-7 field goals and went 7-of-7 at the line in the final six minutes to hold on for the big win.
"We played with a lot of composure, and hit shots when we needed to," said Schuller. "When we took shots tonight, we weren't just throwing it up there hoping it went through the net. Every player was focusing in and shooting for the team."
Juniors Chene Cooper and Brianne Ryan led Eagles offensively with 15 tallies apiece. Ryan hit three treys in the contest, and had six rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots. Cooper added five assists and four steals.
Piper finished with 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting, while also adding five rebounds. Senior Tatjana Sparavalo had nine points, which included a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line.