Closing in on Big Sky Lead, Eagles Play at Sac State Saturday

Eastern looks to add one more win to its flawless Big Sky road record, and pick up its third regular-season sweep of the 2011-12 conference season

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EWU at Sac State
Saturday, Feb. 4 | 2:05 p.m. PST
The Nest | Sacramento, Calif.
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Riding a four-game winning streak, the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team heads back out on the road to play Sacramento State on Saturday (Feb. 4) at 2 p.m. in Sacramento, Calif.

With a win Saturday at The Nest, the Eagles would catch league-leading Idaho State in the Big Sky standings. The Bengals would still have a slightly better percentage at 8-1, but the teams would be essentially even, as Eastern would improve to 9-2.

The Eagles would also tie the school record for the most league road wins in a season, as EWU currently boasts a perfect 5-0 Big Sky road record. Eastern Washington won six conference road games in 1984 when it was a member of the Mountain West Conference. 

In the first meeting of the year between EWU and Sac State, the Eagles used a dominant first-half performance to bury the Hornets, 78-62. Eastern held Sac to just 19 points on 24 percent shooting in the first period.

The Eagles were up by 19 at the break, and then increased that lead to 32 with less than eight minutes remaining in the game. But after head coach Wendy Schuller took out her starters, the Hornets managed to close the gap slightly and ended up out-scoring EWU 43-40 in the second half.

The Hornets come into the game with an 8-15 overall record and 3-7 mark in conference. Sac State has lost eight of its last nine games, but the Hornets do play significantly better when at home. This season, they are 1-10 on the road and 7-5 at The Nest.

Sacramento State puts up the most points per game of any team in the Big Sky, but it is second to last in the entire nation in scoring defense, allowing opponents to score an average of 80.3 points per game. If Eastern can keep pace with Sac State, which it has had little trouble doing in the last three meetings, EWU should be looking at its ninth Big Sky win.

The all-time series between EWU and Sac stands at 23-12, in favor of Eastern. The Eagles are 10-6 when playing in Sacramento, with wins in the two most recent trips.

News & Notes

Eagles On a Roll - Eastern Washington has won its last four games in a row, seven of its last eight and nine of the last 11. The Eagles boast a flawless 5-0 Big Sky road record. In its seven most recent wins, EWU has out-scored its opponents by more than 100 points (569-468), while averaging 42.7 percent from the floor. EWU has held its opponents to 37.7 percent shooting. The Eagles have already swept the regular-season series with Montana State and Northern Arizona, and will be going for its third on Saturday versus Sacramento State.

Composing a Symphony - The Eastern Washington women's basketball team has had an extremely successful month with seven wins in its last eight outings. 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. Defensviely, 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."

Back-to-Back POWs - Eastern Washington has received the Big Sky Player of the Week honor in back-to-back weeks. Most recently, 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 on the week. 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. Last week, 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 - 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 1.50 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 third in the Big Sky in scoring, to just four points on 2-of-10 from the field.

Rollin' on the Road - Eastern Washington is off to its best Big Sky road season in more than 25 years. The Eagels are currently undefeated at 5-0 on the road this season. The last time EWU had a flawless Big Sky road record was in 1984, when it won its first six road games. In its first road trip of this conference season, Eastern Washington celebrated a sweep with back-to-back wins at Weber State and Northern Arizona. Eastern then beat Portland State on the road on Jan. 21, followed by another sweep of what is arguably the hardest road trip in the conference to Montana and Montana State.

Coop Puts Up National Numbers - Senior Chene Cooper (Puyallup, Wash.) currently ranks fifth in the nation in assists, averaging 7.3 per game. She is actually No. 1 in the nation though in total assists with 168 in the 2011-12 campaign. Cooper is one of only five 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 currently ranks third in the EWU all-time career record book with 485, and is 11th in Big Sky history. Coop is also among the best in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. With 168 assists and only 71 turnovers this season, she ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky and 13th among all players in Division I.

Disruptive Defense - Eastern Washington is one of the top 20 teams in the nation in steals, and top 40 in turnover margin. The Eagles have had at least 10 steals in 15 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 24th in the nation. In seven of 10 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 +5.6 turnover margin in conference play is the best in the Big Sky.

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 third-leading scorer on the team, averaging 10.3 points per game, and owns the top field goal percentage among starters at 46.9. She has been even better in conference play, averaging 12.5 points and 7.8 rebounds. Ojeda is the best shot blocker in the Big Sky, averaging 1.9 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 and Coop Join 1,000-Point Club - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) ascored 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 seven players in the Big Sky Conference to reach the career milestone.

Eagles Discover Depth - In 11 of the first 15 games of the season, senior Brianne Ryan led the Eagles in scoring. But in its six most recent outings, four different Eagles have carried the offensive load. 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. This season, six different players on the EWU roster have led the team in scoring at least once, and seven in rebouding.

Keys to a Win - For the 2011-12 Eagles, there seems to be a couple statistics that prove more important than others when it comes to winning a game. This season, the Eagles are 13-1 when leading at the half, and 13-1 when shooting above 40 percent from the field. Eastern has won only one of eight games in which it trailed at halftime, and that was at Portland State when it 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 14 victories this season, EWU shoots an average of 44.4 percent from the field. In the nine games lost, the Eags are converting 34.7 percent of their shots.

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 245, Cooper also appears in the Big Sky record book for all-time career steals, ranking seventh 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 fifth in the EWU record book with 1,310 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.

Ryan Scores 30...Again - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) registered a season-high 32 points against Weber State (Jan. 5) for her third 30+ scoring effort of the season. Only one other player in the Big Sky has 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 23 games of the 2011-12 season, which is currently the longest running streak in the Big Sky. In 10 of those 23 games, Ryan has poured in 20 or more points - the most 20+ scoring efforts of any Big Sky player this season.

3-Point Threats - Senior Brianne Ryan has hit at least one 3-pointer in 22 of 23 game this season, and has had three or more on 10 different occasions. She drained a career-high six against Portland (Nov. 29) and had five against Boise State (Dec. 17) and Montana State (Dec. 29). She is averaging 2.4 per game, which ties for second in Big Sky statistics and is among the top 50 nationally. In her career, Ryan has hit 127 3-pointers, which ranks eighth in the EWU record book. Sophomore guard Chenise Pakootas has also become a major scoring threat for EWU, especially from beyond the arc. She ranks among the top 15 in the Big Sky in both 3-point field goal percentage and 3-point field goal average. She is averaging 1.4 3-pointers per game on a 42.2 percentage, which is the top percentage among all players in the league. Pakootas 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 5.3 rebounds per game to rank third on the squad. She has had four or more total rebounds in 17 of 23 games this year, including a career-high nine against conference foe Montana (Jan. 2). Point guard Kylie Huerta, who averages 8.2 minutes per game, has tallied 36 points and 27 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. 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 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, while playing a game-high 38 minutes against the Toreros.

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).

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