With Big Sky Title Hanging in the Balance, Eastern Prepares to Host Portland State and Top-Seeded Idaho State
Eastern in control of its own destiny as it heads into final home stand of 2011-12 regular season
The Big Sky Conference race always becomes a bit of a math problem at this time of year. But for the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team, one thing is for sure: win out and you win the league.
Currently in second place in the conference with a 10-3 record, the Eagles host Portland State Thursday (Feb. 23) at 6:05 p.m., followed by the most anticipated matchup of the season against league-leading Idaho State on Saturday (Feb. 25). Tipoff on Senior Day is scheduled for 2:05 p.m.
Eastern is two games behind ISU (12-1) right now, but because of the ironic way the schedule worked out this year, the Eagles can still claim the regular-season title with a sweep of the team from Pocatello, regardless of what ISU does Thursday in its game at Sacramento State.
Eastern and ISU are the only two Big Sky squads that have yet to play each other in the 2011-12 campaign. After the meeting in Cheney on Saturday, EWU will head to Pocatello on March 3 for its final regular-season game. In all circumstances though, Eastern must sweep ISU for a shot at the title.
If Eastern beats Portland State and then splits the final two games against the Bengals, EWU will automatically finish second in the Big Sky, thus earning a bye in the first round of the tournament, which is held March 8-10 at the site of the regular-season champion.
If the Eagles were to win just one of the next three or lose out completely, a number of scenarios exist in determining where EWU could finish.
On Thursday, Eastern will be aiming for its first regular-season sweep of Portland State since the 2004-05 campaign. In their meeting earlier this year in Portland, the Eagles used a 20-7 run in the final five and a half minutes to knock off the defending champion, 75-67.
Four different players scored in double figures in that game, including junior Carrie Ojeda, who led the team with 18 points and 10 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season. The Eagles shot 32 percent in the first half against PSU, but then came out in the second and hit 58 percent of their attempts from the floor.
Although Portland State has struggled as of late, losing its last three conference games in a row, the Vikings will undoubtedly bring their best game to Cheney, as they are one of two teams still fighting for the sixth and final spot in the Big Sky Championship. Portland State owns a 5-7 league record, just one game ahead of Sac State at 5-9.
The Vikings rank second in the league in scoring offense and first in 3-point field goal percentage. Portland State boasts three of the top 10 scorers in the league in senior point guard Eryn Jones, junior guard Courtney VanBrocklin and sophomore guard Kate Lanz, who averages 16.7 points to rank third overall in the league.
"I know Portland State is a dangerous team," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "They have three of the best players in our league. They are savvy and definitely know what they're doing, but have just had some bad luck in some games this year. That's all it takes sometimes is a bounce of the ball one way or another between winning our league and finishing fifth."
After facing one of the top offensive teams in the league Thursday, Eastern will have to switch gears for Idaho State, which boasts the best defense in the Big Sky.
"We lost a tough, physical game last week against Northern Colorado and I expect Idaho State to play kind of the same way," said Schuller. "They like to bump you around on cuts and really keep the score in the 40s and 50s. We will have to be able to find ways to score against that, which we didn't do a great job of last Thursday."
Idaho State ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky Conference in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense, while ranking second in both rebounding offense and rebounding defense. The Bengals have allowed opponents to score an average of 56.4 points per game on just 35 percent from the field, which is among the top 30 field goal percentage defenses in the entire nation.
On the offensive end, the Bengals do not have any big time scorers, but rather a consistent group of contributors, who each average just over 10 points per game.
"Idaho State has a bunch of players who can score on any given night," said Schuller. "They are by no means a one or two-man team. I think they are really a complete basketball squad."
Idaho State's only loss so far in the 2011-12 conference season came in overtime against Montana State - a team EWU swept during the regular season. The Bengals lost at home to the Bobcats on Feb. 2, 79-67. Since then, the team has won four in a row, while out-scoring those opponents by an average of nine points.
Idaho State swept the regular-season season series against EWU last year, which included a heartbreaking 76-73 overtime loss at Reese Court. The Bengals returned all five starters from the squad.
News & Notes
Big Sky Tourney Field Nearly Set - In winning its ninth conference game on Feb. 4 at Sacramento State, Eastern Washington became the first team in the Big Sky to clinch a bid to the 2012 conference championship, held March 8-10 at the site of the regular-season champion. This will be Eastern's third-straight appearance in the postseason, and eighth in head coach Wendy Schuller's 11-year tenure. Four other teams, including Idaho State, Northern Colorado, Montana and Montana State have also clinched a bid to this year's tourney. Portland State and Sac State are the two teams fighting for the sixth and final spot.
Coop Puts Up National Numbers - Senior Chene Cooper (Puyallup, Wash.) currently ranks fifth in the nation in assists, averaging 7.2 per game. She is one of only six Division I women's basketball players across the country that average seven or more assists per game. The 5-foot-0 point guard has been among the top 10 in that category every week of the 2011-12 campaign. She leads all players in the Big Sky by nearly three complete assists. In addition to her season average, she also has the most career assists of any active player in the league by more than 100. She is currently second in the EWU all-time career record book with 503, and is ninth in Big Sky history. Coop is also among the best in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. With 186 assists and only 83 turnovers this season, she ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky and 14th among all players in Division I.
Freaky Fives - In Eastern's most recent contest at Northern Colorado (Feb. 16), senior Chene Cooper posted a very interesting stat line. The senior point guard, who wears #5 and stands at five feet even, finished the game with five points, five rebounds, five assists, five steals and five turnovers...now that's freaky.
Better in Blowouts - This season, Eastern Washington has proved to be a more successful team in games decided by at least 10 points. The Eagles are 13-4 in the 2011-12 campaign in games where the scoring margin reaches double digits. Eastern is 3-6 on the year when the game is decided by less than 10. Eastern has not played in a single overtime game yet this year. In its 16 games victories on the season, Eastern has out-scored its opponent by an average of 16 points.
Other Keys to a Win - In addition to scoring margin, there are a couple other glaring statistics that lead to an Eastern Washington. This season, the Eagles are 14-2 when leading at the half, and 15-2 when shooting above 40 percent from the field. Eastern has won only one of eight games in which it trailed at halftime, and in that game, Eastern trailed by just one single point (28-27) at intermission. The Eagles have also won just one of nine games in which they've shot below 40 percent from the field. In its 16 victories this season, EWU has shot an average of 44.3 percent from the field. In the nine games lost, the Eags are converting 34.7 percent of their shots.
Disruptive Defense - Eastern Washington is one of the top 20 teams in the nation in steals, and top 50 in turnover margin. The Eagles have had at least 10 steals in 17 different games this season, including eight games with 15 or more. Three different Eagles rank among the top 15 in the Big Sky in steals, including Chene Cooper, who leads the league outright and is 19th in the nation. In seven of 12 conference games, EWU has forced 20 or more turnovers, with at least 12 steals in each of those contests. In its Big Sky opener against Montana State (Dec. 29), EWU grabbed a school-record 22 steals. MSU ended up with 28 total turnovers in that game. At Northern Arizona (Jan. 7), the Eagles forced 31 turnovers - the second-most miscues for any team in the Big Sky this season. At home against Sac State (Jan. 12), the Eagles forced 27 turnovers and the next night versus Northern Colorado (Jan. 14), EWU forced 24. Eastern's +3.7 turnover margin in conference play is the best in the Big Sky.
Onslaught of Honors - For four-straight weeks, a member of the Eastern Washington women's basketball team was named the Big Sky Player of the Week honor, and for the first three weeks, it was a different player each time. Senior Brianne Ryan received the honor in back-to-back weeks, first as a Co-POW with Montana State's Katie Bussey on Feb. 6, and then independently on Feb. 13. She earned the most recent accolade after leading EWU to a 78-45 rout of Weber State, which was Eastern's largest margin of victory against a Division I progam this season. Ryan poured in a career-high-tying 33 points - her fourth 30+ outing of the season. She was 13-of-20 from the field, including a nearly perfect 5-of-6 effort from 3-point range. She also grabbed five rebounds and had a game-high five steals in just 29 minutes on the floor. Along with being named POW by the conference office, Ryan was also recognized with the same award by College Sports Madness. The week prior, in Eastern's wins against NAU (Feb. 2) at home and Sac State (Feb. 4) on the road, Ryan averaged 27.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. She had 29 points against NAU with three 3-pointers, followed by a 26-point effort at Sac, which included a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line. In the week before Ryan, senior Chene Cooper was selected as the POW after leading the Eagles to a sweep of the Montana road trip for the first time since becoming a member of Division I athletics in 1983-84. The 5-foot-0 point guard averaged 15.5 points, 8.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds. Against perennial power Montana, Cooper was sensational with a game-high 18 points, nine assists and only one turnover in 37 minutes on the floor. On Jan. 23, junior Carrie Ojeda earned her first-career POW honor after leading EWU to an important win on the road against defending Big Sky regular-season champion, and preseason favorite, Portland State. The 6-1 center posted her fourth double-double of the season with 18 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. She was 9-of-14 from the floor, while also contributing three blocks, one assist and one steal.
Ryan Also Recognized for Role in Montana Sweep - After leading Eastern in its historic sweep of the Montana road trip, senior point guard Chene Cooper was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week by the league office, but fellow senior Brianne Ryan received the same honor by College Sports Madness. Ryan averaged 18.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in the sweep. On Thursday at Dahlberg, Ryan posted 15 points with two 3-pointers, and had five rebounds, one assist and one block. Against the Bobcats, Ryan poured in a game-high 22 points on a 9-of-16 effort from the floor, including two more 3-pointers. She was two rebounds shy of a double-double, as she finished with eight on the night. In addition to leading her team offensively, Ryan also had the job of guarding Montana State's leading scorer. She held senior guard Katie Bussey, who ranks second in the Big Sky in scoring, to just four points on 2-of-10 from the field. In Montana State's very next game against ISU, Bussey went off for 41 points.
Presence in the Paint - Eastern's junior center Carrie Ojeda (Tacoma, Wash.) has become a big time post player for EWU. She is currently the leading rebounder (6.8/game), the third-leading scorer on the team (10.0/game) and owns the top field goal percentage among starters at 46.0. She has been even better in conference play, averaging 11.4 points and eight rebounds. Ojeda is the best shot blocker in the Big Sky, averaging 1.8 per game. She has set or matched a career-high scoring mark in five different outings this year. She posted a career-high 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting in Eastern's win at Northern Arizona (Jan. 7). Prior to that, she twice set a career-high of 19 points against Montana State (Dec. 29) and Eastern Oregon (Dec. 12). In Eastern's win at Portland State (Jan. 21), Ojeda made a career-high nine field goals to finish with a team-high 18 points, which propelled EWU to the important 75-67 on the road.
Ryan Scores 30...Again - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) registered a season and career-high-tying 33 points against Weber State (Feb. 9) for her fourth 30+ scoring effort of the season. Only two other players in the Big Sky have hit the 30-point mark this season, and no one besides Ryan has done it more than once. She has scored in double figures in all 26 games of the 2011-12 season, which is currently the longest running streak in the Big Sky. In 12 of those 25 games, Ryan has poured in 20 or more points - the most 20+ scoring efforts of any Big Sky player this season.
Composing a Symphony - Since the start of the new year, Eastern Washington has won nine of 12 conference games, which included a streak of six wins in a row. Head coach Wendy Schuller says the team has witnessed such success because of a cohesive team effort. "We are playing great team basketball," said Schuller. "We are really figuring out what each other does well. We had talked the other day about a symphony, and how not everyone can sing the same note and in the same pitch and expect to make beautiful music. I think everyone on our team is contributing what they can, and we are learning how to get the right people the ball in the spots where they can do good things, and that is lending a lot to our success. Defensively, it is kind of the same thing. We are helping each other out and communicating well. Our defense gets our offense going, and vice versa. When you're shooting the ball well, it definitely gives you energy on the other end of the floor."
Ryan and Coop Join 1,000-Point Club - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) scored her 1,000th career point against Arizona State on Dec. 2, and senior Chene Cooper accomplished the same feat against Montana State on Jan. 28. Ryan and Coop are two of only eight players in the Big Sky Conference to reach the career milestone.
Eagles Discover Depth - This season, six different players on the EWU roster have led the team in scoring at least once, and seven in rebounding. In a 78-62 rout of Sacramento State (Jan. 12), five different players scored in double figures, which was the first time all season the Eags had five players with 10 or more points in a single game. Head coach Wendy Schuller put 14 different players into the game, and 11 of those 14 scored at least two points. Ten different Eagles had at least one assist and at least one rebound, and eight separate players had one or more steals. Sophomore Laura Hughes led the Eagles in scoring with a career-high 14 points, She also had a career-high 11 rebounds for the first double-double of her career.
Coop Sets Career and Single-Game Steals Record - In Eastern's 2011-12 Big Sky Conference opener against Montana State (Dec. 29), senior point guard Chene Cooper broke EWU's 27-year-old career steals record and tied the school's single-game steals record, set on six different occasions. Cooper had seven steals against the Bobcats, which improved her career total to 218. She surpassed the previous career record of 212, held by Lisa Comstock, who played from 1982-85. Along with owning the top mark in EWU history, which has since improved to 254, Cooper also appears in the Big Sky record book for all-time career steals, ranking sixth in league history.
Eagles Break 32-Year-Old School Record - As a team, Eastern Washington tallied 22 steals in its Big Sky opener against Montana State (Dec. 29), and in doing so, broke a school record that had stood for 32 years. The previous team single-game steals record of 21 was set on Feb. 10, 1979 when the 1978-79 Eagle squad played Northwest Nazarene. Against the Bobcats on Dec. 29, 2011, eight of 10 players who entered the game had at least one steal, while four players had three or more. Montana State committed 28 total turnovers in the game.
Mother-Daughter Milestone - Senior Brianne Ryan scored 32 points against Weber State (Jan. 5), and in doing so, finally surpassed her mother on EWU's all-time career scoring list. Ryan now ranks third in the EWU record book with 1,385 career points. Her mother, Neil Ann Ryan (formerly Massie), is ninth with 1,190. Neil Ann played for Eastern from 1979-82. She is also one of only three players in EWU history to notch 1,000+ rebounds, as well as 1,000+ points. Neil Ann ranks third in EWU history for career rebounds with 1,008.
3-Point Threats - Senior Brianne Ryan has hit at least one 3-pointer in 25 of 26 game this season, and has had three or more on 11 different occasions. She drained a career-high six against Portland (Nov. 29) and had five against Boise State (Dec. 17), Montana State (Dec. 29) and Weber State (Feb. 9). She is averaging 2.5 per game, which is third in Big Sky statistics and is among the top 50 nationally. In her career, Ryan has hit 136 3-pointers, which ranks fifth in the EWU record book. Sophomore guard Chenise Pakootas has also become a major scoring threat for EWU, especially from beyond the arc. She owns the very best 3-point field goal percentage in the Big Sky at 42.5. She ranks 14th in 3-pointers made, averaging 1.3 per game. Pakootas hit three treys in Eastern's most recent game at Northern Colorado on Feb. 16. She had a career outing in Eastern's final non-conference game against Idaho, scoring 14 points with a career-high four 3-pointers.
Freshmen on the Floor - Eastern has two freshmen who are making significant contributions in their rookie seasons. Melissa Williams, a 6-1 forward, has earned a spot in Eastern's starting lineup in every game of the year. The Camas, Wash., native averages 5.4 rebounds per game to rank third on the squad. She has had four or more total rebounds in 19 of 26 games this year, including a career-high nine against Montana (Jan. 2) and again at Sac State (Feb. 4). Point guard Kylie Huerta, who averages 8.1 minutes per game, has tallied 36 points and 29 assists. 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.
Eagles Impress in Near Upset of Cross-Town Rival Gonzaga - The Eastern Washington University women's basketball was just moments away from pulling off a truly inspiring upset of national power and cross-town rival Gonzaga on Dec. 9 at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash. After completely controlling the first half of the game, the Eagles held on to a one-point lead (69-68) with under a minute remaining. But an Eagle rebounding foul sent Naismith Trophy candidate Kayla Standish to the line with 38 ticks left on the clock. The 6-2 forward converted both free throws to give GU a narrow 70-69 edge. On Eastern's next possession, sophomore Chenise Pakootas earned a trip to the line for a chance to tie it up and possibly reclaim the lead, but she missed the front end of her one-and-one, and Standish quickly snatched the rebound. Eastern was forced to put Standish on the line again. She made her first shot, but missed the second to keep the game within a single field goal. In a fierce battle for the rebound after the missed free throw, GU's sophomore guard Haiden Palmer emerged with the ball. She was then fouled, and a similar mishap occurred when she missed her second free throw, but then corralled the offensive board. The Bulldogs went on to make three of their next four shots from the charity stripe to extend their lead to six with nine seconds left to play. Eastern tried to keep the game alive with a desperation three, but the shot was off the mark and Gonzaga came down with the rebound as time expired. Despite being the better team for much of the night, the Eagles returned to Cheney with a heartbreaking 75-69 loss. Gonzaga, the seven-time defending WCC champion, has been in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 Coaches' Poll for eight of nine weeks in the 2011-12 season.
Coop Claims All-Tournament Honors - Senior point guard Chene Cooper (Puyallup, Wash.) was named to the ASU Classic All-Tournament Team for her efforts in Eastern's two games in Tempe, Ariz., Dec 2-3. In the two games combined, Cooper averaged a combined 12.0 points, 3.5 assists and 3.5 steals. Cooper turned in one of her best performances of the season against Arkansas State, with 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field and a perfect 8-of-8 from the line. She also had four assists and three steals.
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. In addition to 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.
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).