Despite two wins against Sac State during the regular season, Eastern's offense struggles in postseason matchup against the league's hottest team
The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team saw its season come to an end in disappointing fashion, as No. 6 Sacramento State upset No. 3 Eastern, 71-61, in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Big Sky Conference Championship in Pocatello, Idaho.
The Eagles, who finished the season at 16-14 overall and 10-6 in Big Sky play, had to face a flourishing Sac State team that had won four games in a row to snatch the sixth and final spot in the tournament. But the Hornets certainly proved they belonged there.
Sac State held EWU to just 32.5 percent shooting from the field and 18.8 from 3-point range, while forcing a season-high 27 Eagle turnovers.
"We worked a lot of hours on the floor and in the film room, looking at their press, analyzing what they do and coming up with a game plan," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "We know they have done a great job with that press these past couple weeks. It's why they beat Montana State and Idaho State and Portland State twice. We worked a lot on it and felt like we were in a good place going into the game, but we when stepped on the floor tonight, we did not execute the way we were supposed to."
Eastern was also quite active on the defensive end, with 27 forced turnovers of their own. But when the Hornets did maintain possession, they capitalized, especially in the first two minutes of the game.
Sac State hit four of its first five shots - all of which were 3-pointers. Before the first media timeout, the Hornets had earned a 15-6 advantage.
Midway through the half though, seniors Brianne Ryan and Chene Cooper gave their team a much-needed spark. Ryan scored six unanswered points to pull the Eagles within three at 19-16. Cooper assisted on two of Ryan's three made baskets during the surge.
But the Hornets managed to hold onto their edge, and despite back-to-back field goals by EWU in the final minute of the first half, Sac State went into the locker room with a 32-28 lead.
To Eastern's dismay, the second period started much like the first, as Sac scored 10 points in less than three minutes. By the 17:26 mark, the Hornets had earned their largest lead of the game at 42-30.
But Eastern would not surrender. The Eagles battled back and after going on a 15-4 run, they had tied it up for the first time all night at 48-48 with just under nine minutes remaining. The Hornets scored on their next possession, but EWU answered to tie it again at 50-50. But over the next 55 seconds, EWU experienced a deflating series of events.
With a chance to take over the lead for the very first time, EWU missed three-straight shots in one single possession.
"When we had tied the game, I felt at that point, we had a chance to really make a run," said Schuller. "We got an offensive board and kicked it out, but missed the wide open three that would have finally given us the lead and maybe the momentum we needed to push through.
"That's where games can change with just one shot, because emotions change," added Schuller. We had worked so hard for three to four defensive stops in a row to give oursevles that opportunity, and I think when that shot didn't go in, it really took some air out of our sails."
Following the long, unsuccessful possession, Sac State went on an 8-0 run to take a double-digit lead at 61-51. Eastern fought hard to get back in it, but the Hornets continued make shots, keeping the game just out of reach.
EWU had beat Sac State twice during the regular season - a dominant 78-62 win in Cheney, and a closer 90-84 victory in Sacramento. But by the time the postseason rolled around, EWU had lost a bit of its swagger and cohesion, while the Hornets were just beginning to tap into theirs.
Cooper and Ryan both registered a double-double in their final outing for the Eags. Ryan finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Cooper tallied 13 points and 10 assists, as well as six steals. But the two went a combined 11-of-37 from the floor.
Along with Coop and Ryan, senior Breauna Russell also suited up for the final time in red and white.
"We have a pretty special group of seniors that have left quite a mark on this program," said Schuller. "Those three individuals will never be forgotten because of the contributions they have made, not only as individuals, but because of where they took this team. They carried us to new heights and really set a new standard for Eagle basketball."