March 11, 2011

Eagles Fall in BSC Semifinals to Top-Seeded Vikings, 73-62

Portland State shoots 68 percent in second half to end Eastern's 2010-11 season at 13-18

A second-half scoring barrage by No. 1 seeded Portland State sunk the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team on Friday (March 11) in the semifinals of the 2011 Big Sky Conference Championship. The Vikings scored 47 points in the second half – nearly double its point total from the first – to defeat Eastern, 73-62 at the Peter W. Stott Center in Portland, Ore.

The Eagles had the game under control for the first 20 minutes, forcing PSU to shoot at a dismal 27 percent from the field. But the second half was a different story.The Vikings came out on a rampage, converting 9-of-12 shots in the first seven minutes to open up a quick 44-39 edge.

Eastern was able to keep the game at bay though, as it too, exhibited a hot hand in the opening minutes of the second half. The Eagles made their first four shots in a row, and six of their first nine before things started to unravel.

"The first half was kind of like the early rounds of a boxing match," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller.  "Both teams were feeling each other out, and not really landing any solid blows. Then the second half started, and a real fight broke out. Everything turned up. There was a period of time when it was just was up and down, everyone was making shots, and it was really a wild game."

In the midst of PSU's onslaught, junior Brianne Ryan managed to score five unanswered points that brought the Eagles within one at 40-39. But Portland State responded with a 10-1 run that gave the Viks their first double-digit lead of the night at 50-40.

It looked as though Eastern might get a lift when Ryan and junior point guard Chene Cooper hit back-to-back buckets with just under seven minutes remaining, but PSU made sure to thwart any hopes of an Eagle surge, as an old-fashioned three for Kellie Valentine, followed by a wide-open trey for Eryn Jones extended the Viking lead to nine (63-54) at 5:56.

Eastern made just 2-of-9 baskets in the final six minutes and missed three free throws to hand Portland State the game and a berth to the championship on Saturday versus Montana.

"I was kind of disappointed because I don't think we flew around defensively in the way we are capable of," said Schuller. "I thought we relaxed more than we should have in the second half, and Portland State did a great job of attacking us in those situations. They were attacking the lane and attacking the rim, and when that happens, our defense collapses."

Eastern actually led the Vikings 34-26 in points in the paint, but a bleak 4-of-17 (24 percent) effort from three-point range seemed to erase any offensive advantage held by EWU. The Eags also struggled from the free-throw line, converting only 10-of-19 (53 percent) attempts in the contest.

Eastern's all-conference selections of Ryan, Cooper and senior Julie Piper combined for 41 of EWU's 62 points. Cooper led the team with 18 tallies, while Piper and Ryan chipped in 17 and 16, respectively.

Piper, who played her last game as an Eastern Eagle on Friday, was 6-of-10 from the field and grabbed a team-leading eight rebounds. She also had four steals and an assist.

"I have never coached a player who works harder and goes after it more than Piper," commended Schuller. "It has been a privilege and honor to coach Julie, and it is going to be very difficult to say goodbye to her and the rest of this senior class. Those three [Piper, Kyla Evans, Tatjana Sparavalo] have really created the expectation of what Eagle basketball is all about."

Senior Tatjana Sparavalo, who was coming off a career-high 28 points against Montana State in the quarterfinals, finished with six points and two rebounds. Kyla Evans was unable to score in the contest, but did have five rebounds and an assists against PSU.

The Eagles finished their 2010-11 campaign with a 13-18 overall record. Eastern is now 9-15 all-time in Big Sky Conference tournament games, and 5-7 under Schuller.

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