Eagles Put Perfect Big Sky Road Record to the Test This Week at the Montanas
With retribution on its mind, Eastern aims for improved shooting in rematch against Lady Griz
The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team has played three road games so far in the 2011-12 Big Sky season - and the Eags have won all three. But this weekend, that flawless record will be put to the ultimate test, as EWU travels to the Montanas for two challenging league matchups. Eastern will first face Montana on Thursday (Jan. 26) at the notorious Dahlberg Arena in Missoula. The Eagles then travel to Bozeman to take on Montana State on Saturday (Jan. 28).
Since becoming a member of Division I athletics in 1983-84, Eastern Washington has never swept a Montana road trip.
Most often, the Eagles get tripped up in Missoula, as evidenced by a 3-38 record at Dahlberg. But one of those three victories was just last season when the 2010-11 squad upset Montana on its home floor, 71-63.
This Thursday, EWU will look to make it two in a row in Missoula. But in order to accomplish that feat, the Eagles will have to find a way to knock down shots against one of the Sky's top defensive teams.
"The most important thing for us will be putting it in the basket," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "We did an absolutely atrocious job of shooting the ball the last time we played them [Montana]."
In the first meeting of the 2011-12 season in Cheney, the Eagles lost, 53-46, after shooting a season-low 27.1 percent from the field. Eastern converted just 16 total field goals in the game, with a season-low eight assists. In the second half at Reese Court, EWU did not hit a single shot from the perimeter.
Montana was not much better though, as it converted only 34 percent of its shots, and made just 3-of-13 from 3-point range. But as is customary for the Lady Griz, they found a way to win via defense.
Montana currently ranks second in the Big Sky in scoring defense and third in field goal percentage defense. The Lady Griz have allowed teams to score just 58 points per game on 36 percent shooting. Montana is also the best shot blocking team in the league, averaging 5.3 per game.
"It is going to be a challenge, that's for sure," said Schuller. "Since Christmas, Montana has really turned it on. They are definitely playing their best basketball of the year right now. We are fighting hard to stay in the hunt for a conference championship, so we feel we need to get a split on this regular-season series because Montana is one of the teams that will always be right up there at the top."
The Eagles are currently tied for second in the league standings with Saturday's rival, Montana State. Both Eastern and MSU have earned a 5-2 league record, which puts them a game and a half behind league leader, Idaho State (6-0). Montana is in fourth at 4-2, followed by Northern Colorado (4-3) and Portland State (3-3) to round out the top six.
News & Notes
Ojeda Honored - Junior Carrie Ojeda (Tacoma, Wash.) was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week for games played Jan. 16-22. This is Ojeda's first-career POTW honor, and the second for Eastern in the 2011-12 season. Brianne Ryan was also honored as a Big Sky POTW on Nov. 22. Ojeda earned the 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. Ojeda was 9-of-14 from the floor, while also contributing three blocks, one assist and one steal. With the 75-67 victory in Portland, the Eagles remained undefeated (3-0) on the road in the 2011-12 Big Sky season. Eastern was able to upset the Vikings on their home floor after going on a 20-7 run in the final five minutes of the contest. During the surge, Ojeda had three rebounds, one block and scored four points for the Eags.
Coop Puts Up National Numbers - Senior Chene Cooper (Puyallup, Wash.) currently ranks sixth in the nation in assists. The 5-0 point guard is averaging 7.1 assists per game - she is one of only seven Division I women's basketball players across the country that average seven or more. She has been among the top 10 in that category every week of the 2011-12 campaign. She leads the Big Sky by nearly three complete assists. Cooper 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 459, while ranking 12th in Big Sky history. Coop is also among the best in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. With 142 assists and only 61 turnovers this season, she ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky and 15th among all players in Division I.
Disruptive Defense - Eastern Washington ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky Conference and in the top 15 nationally in steals. The Eagles have had 10+ steals in 14 games this season, which includes 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 15th in the nation with a 3.4 steals per game average. In six of its first seven 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. At Northern Arizona (Jan. 7), the Eagles forced 31 turnovers - the second-most 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 +3.8 turnover margin is the best in the Big Sky, while ranking 40th nationally.
Road Rage - In its first road trip of the Big Sky season, Eastern Washington celebrated a sweep with back-to-back wins at Weber State and Northern Arizona. With those two wins in Ogden and Flagstaff, the Eagles earned just the third league road sweep in the last decade. The two other perfect road weeks came in 2009-10 - the year EWU won the Big Sky regular-season title - when EWU won back-to-back games at Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado. And in 2002-03, Eastern won two in a row at NAU and Sac State. The Eagles improved their Big Sky road record to 3-0 when they beat defending Big Sky regular-season champion, and preseason favorite, Portland State in their most recent outing on Jan. 21.
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 10.1 points per game, and owns the top field goal percentage among starters at 46.4. She leads the Big Sky Conference in blocked shots (1.8/game), and is 10th in rebounding (6.7/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 most recent outing at Portland State (Jan. 21), Ojeda made a career-high nine field goals to finish with a team-high 18 point, which propelled EWU to the important 75-67 on the road.
Eagles Discover Depth - In 11 of the first 15 games of the season, senior Brianne Ryan led the Eagles in scoring. But in its five 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. 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.
Carrie Crashing the Boards - In Eastern's dominant 78-62 win over Sac State (Jan. 12), junior Carrie Ojeda grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds. She had eight on the offensive glass and seven defensive. As a team, EWU grabbed 51 total rebounds, which marked a season-high for the Eagles by six. In conference games only, Ojeda is averaging 8.4 rebounds per game - nearly two more than her season average of 6.7. She ranks seventh in rebounding in league-only statistics, and 10th in all games in the 2011-12 season. She has had three double-doubles in conference play.
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 10-1 when leading at the half, and 10-1 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 last weekend at Portland State when EWU trailed by just one 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 11 victories this season, EWU shoots an average of 43.6 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 241, 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 seventh in the EWU record book with 1,229 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 19 games of the 2011-12 season, which is currently the longest running streak in the Big Sky. In eight of those 19 games, Ryan has poured in 20 or more points. She ranks 34th in the nation with a 18.7 points per game average.
Ryan Reaches 1,000 - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) scored her 1,000th career point against Arizona State on Dec. 2. Ryan is the only active Eagle to have 1,000+ points in her career, and one of only six in the Big Sky Conference.
3-Point Threat - Senior Brianne Ryan has hit at least one 3-pointer in 19 of 20 game this season, and has had three or more on nine 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 2.5 per game, which ranks third in the Big Sky and 43rd nationally. In her career, Ryan has hit 120 3-pointers, which ranks eighth in the EWU record book.
Pakootas Making an Impact - Sophomore Chenise Pakootas has also become a major scoring threat for EWU, especially from beyond the arc. She ranks among the top 12 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 44.1 percentage, which is second-best 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 5.1 rebounds per game to rank third on the squad. She has had four or more total rebounds in 14 of 20 games this year, including a career-high nine against conference foe Montana (Jan. 2). Point guard Kylie Huerta, who averages 8.6 minutes per game, has tallied 32 points and 25 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).