Coming off a big road win, Eastern looks to carry momentum into weekend tourney that kicks off with another Pac-12 opponent
EWU at Arizona State
Friday, Dec. 2 | 9:30 a.m. PST
Wells Fargo Arena | Tempe, Ariz.
EWU vs. Illinois State or Arkansas State
Saturday, Dec. 3 | 11 a.m. PST
Wells Fargo Arena | Tempe, Ariz.
The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team will head to warmer climates this weekend for the 2011 ASU Classic in Tempe, Ariz. For the first time in head coach Wendy Schuller's 11-year tenure, the Eagles will play Pac-12 powerhouse Arizona State in an early game on Friday (Dec. 2) at the Wells Fargo Arena. The Eagles and Sun Devils tipoff at 9:30 a.m. Pacific time. Eastern will then take on either Illinois State or Arkansas State on Saturday (Dec. 3) at 11 a.m., which will be the first-ever meeting with either team in program history.
"It's always interesting facing new teams because there are so many different styles of play that exist throughout the United States, especially in women's basketball," said Schuller. "We are definitely going to see some quality teams that have completely different types of players. But it's good for all of us to play each other, because I know there are things we'll see this weekend that we can bring back with us. I don't proclaim to be a genius of coaching basketball, and there are a lot of great ideas out there that we can learn and grow from."
Eastern, which just earned its first road win of the 2011-12 season at Portland on Tuesday (Nov. 29), will enter the ASU Classic with a 3-3 overall record. The Eagles have already faced an array of tough competition, and has continued to mature with each matchup.
"There are definitely a couple things that are starting to come together," said Schuller. "When you run all different kinds of sets and plays, the first stage is really just learning the play and how to run it. But I think now we are starting to get past that in terms of our ability to take what the defense gives us and then automatically make the correct pass and correct play."
"I think similar growth is evident on the defensive end. I really felt like two years ago when we won the [Big Sky] conference championship, we had gotten to the point defensively where we knew how to cover for each other. If a couple of people went to trap, the others on the court understood rotations and knew how to get back. In our win at Portland, I think a lot of those same things came together. We did a really nice job of covering for each other and communicating well. We are hoping we can bottle up some of the momentum and energy we had in that game and carry it with us into the weekend, because we definitely have some difficult matchups on our hands."
Arizona State (4-1) won its first four games of the 2011-12 season before falling to No. 12 Rutgers by a slim seven-point margin (59-52). The Sun Devils play a tough brand of defense, as evidenced by a 31.6 opponent field goal percentage this season and an average of 11.4 steals per game. ASU has forced at least 17 turnovers in each of its first five games of the season.
"ASU is a very, very good basketball team," said Schuller. "They are well coached and have great athletes. They are known for their intense pressure defense, so for us the big areas to focus on will be our ability to take care of the ball, and find ways to score against that pressure."
As a team, the Sun Devils only average 60.8 points per game, with all five of its starters averaging under 10 points. But the lack of scoring is not a problem for ASU, as it has held opponents to just 52.2 points per game this season.
Arizona State is one of four teams on Eastern's pre-conference slate that played in a national postseason tournament last season. After finishing third in the Pac-10 (now Pac 12) Conference and earning a 20-11 overall record, the Sun Devils earned an at large bid the 2011 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship.
Illinois State (3-2) represents another one of those four teams who advanced to the postseason a year ago, as the Redbirds made it all the way to the semifinals of the WNIT. Illinois State earned an impressive 24-11 overall record last season and went 12-6 in the Missouri Valley Conference. But they return only one starter from that successful 2010-11 squad.
Arkansas State (2-3), out of the Sun Belt Conference, returns three starters from last year's team that went 18-14 overall. The Red Wolves are led this season by sophomore forward Jane Morrill and junior guard Ashley Olvera, who average a combined 30 points and 10 rebounds per game.
News & Notes
Closing in On 1,000 - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) will most likely reach 1,000 career points in Eastern's first matchup this weekend against Arizona State. With 997 career tallies, the 5-11 guard is just three points away from reaching the coveted milestone. Ryan, who has scored 124 points already this season, averages a conference-leading 20.7 points per game.
Drilling it from Downtown - So far in the 2011-12 season, Eastern Washington has proved to be quite a threat from the perimeter. EWU has converted at least five 3-pointers in five of its first six games, and eads the Big Sky Conference in 3-point field goal percentage at 35.8. The Eagles have knocked down 38 3-pointers, including a season-high nine in their most recent outing at Portland. The Eagles average 6.3 per game, which ranks fourth overall in the league. Eastern has three players who all rank among the top 15 perimeter shooters in the Big Sky, while senior Brianne Ryan is third overall, averaging 2.8 3-pointers per game.
Coop Puts up National Numbers - After the first three weeks of the season, senior Chene Cooper (Puyallup, Wash.) ranks among the top 25 in the nation in assists. The 5-0 point guard is averaging 6.3 assists per game, which ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky Conference. The next closest player to Coop is averaging two less at 4.3. Cooper also averages 2. 7 steals per game, which ranks second in the league and 160th among all Division I athletes. With these numbers, Cooper is also climbing up the EWU career record book. She currently ranks seventh in assists with 355, and third all-time in steals with 190. Last season, Cooper ranked in the top 30 in the nation in assists per game for 14 of the 18 weeks of the season, and was second in the conference in both assists and steals.
Ryan on a Roll - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) has scored in double figures in each of Eastern's first six games of the season, and she has had four-consecutive games with 20+ points. With a 20.7 points per game average, Ryan currently ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky in scoring, and among the top 40 in the nation. She has also had four-straight games with at least three 3-pointers, including a career-single-game high of six against Portland (Nov. 29).
Eagles First Road Win is a Big One - On Nov. 29, Eastern Washington defeated non-conference rival Portland, 76-60, for its first road win of the 2011-12 season. The Eagles shot a season-high 47.5 percent from the field, while knocking down a season-high nine 3-pointers. Eastern held a 36-32 advantage on the glass and forced 20 turnovers, which they converted into 27 points on the other end. Prior to facing Eastern, Portland had won back-to-back games against two other Big Sky schools in Portland State and Montana, which were the teams picked one and two in this year's Big Sky Preseason Coaches' Poll. Eastern Washington was selected seventh. Although it was not a head-to-head battle against its conference foes, EWU showed it can certainly measure up with the top dogs in the Big Sky.
Ryan Lays Claim to Big Sky POW - For the first time in her already decorated career, senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) was selected as the Big Sky Player of the Week for games played Nov. 14 - Nov. 20. Ryan had a remarkable performance on both ends of the floor to lead Eastern to a 68-57 victory over San Diego (Nov. 17). Her all-around effort was highlighted by 30 points on 10-of-21 shooting from the floor. She scored nearly half Eastern's total points in the game to become the first player in the Big Sky this season to reach the 30-point scoring mark. Ryan's effort against USD was just three points shy of her career-high of 33, which she set last year versus Sacramento State on 14-of-18 shooting. In addition putting points on the score board, Ryan also led all players on the glass with nine rebounds, and had three assists, one steal and one block, while playing a game-high 38 minutes against the Toreros.
Pakootas Making an Impact - Sophomore Chenise Pakootas has appeared in all six games for EWU this season, averaging 15.7 minutes per game. She is fourth on the team in scoring and ranks among the top 10 in the Big Sky in terms of 3-point shooters, as she averages 1.5 per game on 41 percent shooting. Pakootas turned in a flawless offensive performance in Eastern's 68-57 victory against San Diego (Nov. 17). She was 3-of-3 from the field, which included two 3-pointers, and converted 2-of-2 free throws.
One Night, Three Career-Highs - In Eastern's season opener against Corban (Nov. 11), three different Eagles posted career-high scoring numbers - and ironically, those numbers were the same for each player. Junior Carrie Ojeda and sophomores Laura Hughes and Chenise Pakootas all had 12 tallies against the Warriors. Ojeda's previous career high was 11 points, while Hughes and Pakootas' was 10. And although it wasn't a career-high, it should be noted that senior Brianne Ryan also scored 12 points agaisnt Corban.
Freshmen on the Floor - Eastern has two freshmen this season who are expected to play significant roles in their rookie seasons. Melissa Williams, a 6-1 forward, has earned a spot in Eastern's starting lineup. The Camas, Wash., native leads the team in defensive rebounding and is among the top 10 in the Big Sky Conference, averaging 4.2 per game. In Eastern's first road game at BYU, Williams posted a career-high four blocks. She averages 1.2 blocks per game on the season, which ranks eighth overall in the conference. Point guard Kylie Huerta has aveaged 11.3 minutes in Eastern's first six games of the season, and has tallied 11 assists, 11 points and four steals. Huerta was an Associated Press 4A All-State Honorable Mention and two-time South Puget Sound League North Division Player of the Year out of Kentwood High School, which is the same school that produced Gonzaga legend and current WNBA star Courtney Vandersloot, as well as Nebraska standout/two-time All-Big 12 honoree, Lindsey Moore. Kentwood is also the alma-mater of EWU men's basketball legend, Rodney Stuckey.
Big Numbers for 2011-12 Campaign - At 17 players deep, the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team begins the 2011-12 season with the biggest roster in head coach Wendy Schuller's 11-year tenure. This roster includes three returning starters from 2010-11, six other returning letterwinners, two returning redshirts, one non-lettering squad member, one transfer and four freshmen.
Building Cred in the Big Sky - The Eagles are coming off their second-straight postseason appearance. In 2010, Eastern earned an automatic bid to the Big Sky Conference semifinals after winning the regular-season title. In last year's Big Sky tourney, Eastern advanced the semis again after a 77-68 victory against Montana State in the quarterfinal round, which actually marked the first postseason win for EWU since the 2004 campaign. Eastern has earned 20 Big Sky Conference wins over the past two years, which is more than the Eagles had in the previous four seasons combined. In 2009-10, EWU captured the school's first-ever Big Sky regular-season title with a 12-4 league record.
Academic Excellence - In the past 10 seasons, Eastern Washington women's basketball players have been honored 81 times on the Big Sky All-Academic list, which is the most for any women's basketball team in the league. The Eagles have also been recognized on the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Academic Top 25 Honor Roll for nine of the past 10 seasons. Eastern was among the top five academic teams in the nation in seven of those 10 years, including the 2003-04 campaign, in which the team placed first nationally with a 3.63 cumulative grade point average.
Baby Bonanza - Three of Eastern's four coaches have all had a baby in the last 18 months! Coach Schuller and her husband, Mark, had their third child, Brandon, in June 2010. Assistant coach Alison Hewa had her first child, Hannah, last January, and just a few months after arriving on the EWU campus, assistant coach Steve Lowe welcomed his first child, Harper (born Sept. 25, 2011).