Eastern improves to 3-1 in Big Sky after surviving tenuous game in Flagstaff
The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team came up with a huge win on the road, defeating the Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona 60-53 in another tight Big Sky battle on Thursday (Jan. 20) at the Rolle Activity Center in Flagstaff, Ariz.
"We showed a lot of guts and a lot of heart tonight," praised EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "I was really proud of every player on the floor. It was an exceptional team effort."
With the win, Eastern improved to 3-1 in the Big Sky and 7-9 overall, while the Lumberjacks fell to 2-3 in league action and 7-11 on the season.
The Eagles looked as though they might roll to an easy victory, after the team jumped out to a 17-point lead midway through the first half. But the Lumberjacks made sure that didn't happen on their home floor, as they slowly hacked away at that lead to eventually pull within three (28-25) before intermission.
At the 12:47 mark of the second half, the Lumberjacks had built a one-point advantage on Eastern at 35-34, but in what seemed like a blink of an eye, the Eagles reclaimed an eight-point edge. During the pivotal run, junior Chene Cooper knocked down two shots, one from beyond the arc, and freshman Aubrey Ashenfelter and junior Brianne Ryan each contributed a basket to put Eastern back in the driver's seat.
Although EWU had regained some of the momentum it had in the opening minutes of the contest, Northern Arizona showed no signs of giving in. With less than a minute remaining, the Lumberjacks trailed by just four points, but Eastern converted 6-of-6 free throws in the final seconds to ice the hard-fought victory in Flagstaff.
Cooper, who stands at a mere five feet, was just two rebounds and two assists shy of a triple-double. She played 39 minutes in the contest, finishing with 17 points, eight boards and eight assists.
"All year, we've said Coop is what makes us go," said Schuller. "She certainly showed that tonight. When she is playing well, our team has success. She willed us to win tonight, hitting some big shots when we really needed it."
Junior Brianne Ryan, who was also on the floor for almost the entire 40 minutes, led the Eagles in scoring with 18 points on a .583 (7-12) field goal percentage. Her contributions defensively were just as significant, as she held NAU's leading scorer, Amy Patton, to just 5-of-15 shooting from the field.
"Brianne gave us another outstanding effort," said Schuller. "As usual, she was given the tough defensive assignment of guarding their [NAU] best player. She did an excellent job containing Patton in crucial possessions. Like Coop, she also played a ton of minutes in high altitude, but never let it show."
Although the Eagles themselves did not shoot particularly well, converting only 22-of-58 attempts (.379), they forced NAU to put up an even worse offensive night. The Lumberjacks shot 35 percent from the field, and only 57 percent from the charity stripe.
"Overall, our defensive effort was pretty impressive," said Schuller. "There were a few stretches where we couldn't get the ball in the basket, but it didn't hurt us too badly because we were so sharp on the opposite end."
"I think that is a huge step for us as a team. Back in December, when we would go through similar scoring droughts, we could never get it done defensively, and that cost us some basketball games. Tonight, we made some huge stops when we needed to, and really fought hard on every possession."
Eastern out-rebounded the Lumberjacks 45-32 in the game, which included a 19-12 edge in offensive boards. Twelve of those 19 offensive rebounds came in the first half, which is what gave Eastern such a sizable lead in the first eight minutes.
The Eagles will return to action on Saturday (Jan. 22) when they host Sacramento State at 7:05 p.m. on Reese Court. The Eagles beat the Hornets in Sacramento last Thursday (Jan. 13) in the first meeting of the regular season series. Sac State is 0-5 in Big Sky play this year.