Eagles Outlast Portland State in Big Sky Opener, 70-62

Defending Big Sky Champs hold Portland State to 29 percent shooting from the floor

The unyielding defense of the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team enabled the reigning Big Sky Champs to claim their first conference victory of the 2011 season. The Eagles topped Portland State 70-62 on Saturday (Jan. 8) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. 

With the win, Eastern improved to 5-8 overall and 1-0 in Big Sky action. All five of EWU's wins have come on Reese Court. Portland State, who captured the 2010 Big Sky Conference Tournament title, dropped to 7-7 on the year and 0-1 in the league play.

The Eagles held Portland State to a dismal .288 field goal percentage, which marked the third time this season an EWU opponent has shot below 30 percent from the field. The Vikings made only 6-of-28 (.214) baskets in the second half, compared to 13-of-29 (.448) for the Eagles. EWU also held a slight advantage in rebounding at 41-39.

"I was really pleased with our effort defensively," applauded EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "We have to continue to play with that kind of fire if we want to win games in the Big Sky. This is a tough league and every game is going to be a battle. "

Junior Brianne Ryan and senior Tatjana Sparavalo led the Eagles on the offensive and defensive ends, as both players recorded double-doubles. Ryan, the 2010 Big Sky Co-Defensive Player of the Year, finished the game with 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Sparavalo chipped in 15 points and 11 boards.

"Brianne and Tatjana were monsters on the glass" said Schuller. "Their efforts made a huge difference for us."

The Eagles opened up a 13-point lead on PSU midway through the second period, but the Vikings responded with a 16-4 run, which nearly erased the EWU advantage. With just under four minutes remaining, the Eags found themselves ahead by only one point at 57-56. Eastern quickly tightened up its defense, which thwarted the Viking surge. PSU missed six-consecutive layups over the next two minutes, and EWU senior Julie Piper converted two important baskets down low to put the Eagles up 61-56 at the 1:39 mark.

In an attempt to maximize their time of possession, the Vikings then resorted to fouling, but EWU hit 7-of-11 free throws in the final minute to seal the victory.

Due to foul trouble, Piper played only nine minutes total in the contest, but her two buckets late in the game were pivotal in the Eagle win.

"We did a great job of executing offensively in the final three minutes," said Schuller. "We know Piper has the ability to score in the paint, so we wanted to run plays that got the ball into her hands. We were trying to attack the basket, and she did a great job of finishing for us."

Junior Chene Cooper also had an impressive outing, as she was the third Eagle in double figures. They Puyallup, Wash., native finished with 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting (.455) and also added seven assists.

The Eagles will be on the road for their next three Big Sky contests, starting with Sacramento State on Thursday (Jan. 13). EWU will then travel to Greeley, Colo., to face the Bears of UNC on Saturday (Jan. 15).  

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