Despite loss to Vikings, Eastern still has a shot at the Big Sky regular-season title
The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team could simply not find an answer for the sharp-shooting Vikings on Thursday (Feb. 23) at Reese Court, as defending Big Sky regular-season champion Portland State upended Eastern, 76-69, in Cheney, Wash.
Fortunately though, the loss did little to affect EWU's Big Sky title hopes, as current league-leader Idaho State (20-7, 12-2) also lost tonight at Sacramento State, 75-63. If Eastern (16-11, 10-4) can sweep ISU in the final two games of the season, the Eagles will win the Big Sky regular-season title and the right to host the tournament by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker. Eastern hosts the Bengals this Saturday (Feb. 25) at 2:05 p.m., before traveling to Pocatello on March 3 for the regular-season finale. Eastern must sweep for a shot at the crown.
Despite shooting just 30.3 percent from the field, and allowing Portland State to drill 58.7 percent of its shots, the Eagles hung in until the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Down by eight points with 1:51 remaining in the game, senior Chene Cooper buried a 3-pointer to pull the Eagles within five at 69-64. And just as the shot left Cooper's hands, junior Carrie Ojeda was fouled underneath the basket, which gave Eastern an opportunity for a five-point play, as Ojeda earned a trip to the free-throw line. The junior center hit both her shots to cut PSU's lead to three at 69-66.
The Vikings managed to score on their next trip down the floor to push the lead back to five, but Cooper answered with another huge three-ball that ignited the crowd at Reese Court. But Portland State went on to make 5-of-6 free throws in the final 45 seconds, while EWU missed its last three attempts from the field, allowing PSU to walk away with the seven-point victory.
Portland State converted 27-of-46 shots in the game, which is the most efficient offensive performance Eastern has seen all season.
"We were terrible defensively," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "Portland state executed its offense to a tee. They made the extra pass and knocked down shots. We didn't fly around the way we normally do on defense, and I thought their posts got too many touches."
The Eagles did force 21 turnovers, while committing only eight themselves. But when Portland State was able to hang onto the ball, it found a way to put it in the basket.
"Our defense creates our plays on offense," said Schuller. "So if we're not defending, we're not able to get out and run and do the things we're so used to doing. It seems we let one end of the floor affect the other. If you're not making shots, you have to be able to be better and more focused on defense. Tonight, we were not."
Eastern made just 9-of-32 attempts in the first half, while its leading scorer Brianne Ryan was held to zero with only four touches. The senior captain made up for it in the second half though, scoring 20 points, which included a perfect 7-of-7 effort from the free-throw line.
In fact, the Eagles scored 26 of their 69 points from the charity stripe.
Ojeda finished with a double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Cooper also chipped in 17, to go along with six assists and two steals.
Ojeda has had a double-double against the Vikings in the last three-consecutive meetings.
The Vikings were led by reigning Big Sky MVP, Eryn Jones, who scored 20 points on a 7-of-13 effort from the floor. She hit all four of PSU's 3-pointers in the game.