Eagles Host Montana Thursday in Battle of Big Sky’s Top Two Teams

Both undefeated in league play, Eagles and Lady Griz put winning streaks to the test in first contest of the New Year

Upcoming Games

Eastern vs. Montana
Thursday, Jan. 3 | 6:05 p.m. PT
Reese Court | Cheney, Wash.

Coverage

Game Notes | Live Stats | Mobile Stats | Live Webcast


Although still early in the Big Sky season, two of the hottest teams in the league right now will face off this week in an important game at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

Riding a four-game winning streak, the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team hosts the Montana Lady Griz on Thursday (Jan. 3) at 6 p.m. Montana has won its last three games in a row.

The Eagles will then play Montana State on Saturday (Jan. 5) at 2 p.m. at Reese Court to wrap up a quick three-game home stand.

Eastern and Montana currently share the top spot in the Big Sky standings after opening their seasons with two wins. Montana defeated Northern Arizona and Sac State at home, while Eastern took down Weber State and Idaho State on the road.

“I would imagine this is going to be a pretty good matchup,” said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller, who is the second-longest tenured coach in the Big Sky, behind Montana’s Robin Selvig, who is in his 35th season at the helm.

“Both teams are sitting in first place right now, and while it’s still early in league play, I’m sure we are both viewing this as a good chance to gain a bit of an advantage.”

Ironically, over the past two years in this particular matchup, the visiting team has had the advantage. Eastern has won back-to-back games at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont., but the Lady Griz have returned the favor with wins in Cheney in 2011 and 2012.

Montana is led this season by a pair of seniors in 5-11 guard Kenzie De Boer and 6-0 forward Katie Baker, who both average 10+ points per game on 42 percent shooting. And while Montana does rank in the top three in the league in both scoring offense (66.1 ppg) and scoring defense (58.4), the real stat to worry about with this team is in turnovers, or rather, its lack thereof.

Averaging just 10.9 per game, Montana is currently No. 1 in the nation in turnovers. The Lady Griz rank fifth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4) and ninth in turnover margin (+7.7).

“Montana is always a tough team, and from the little bit of film I’ve seen, I know they’re playing really well this year,” said Schuller. “Before the season even started, I thought they were going to be one of the teams to beat, and it’s turning out to look like that.”

“They have some good, athletic guards who take care of the ball and know how to score,” added Schuller. “But we’re going to see them work it inside as well to those really good post players they have. [Katie] Baker is a first-team all-league player for a reason. For us, we have to be great defending them, because they execute so well offensively just running the stuff they’ve run forever.”

OTHER GAME NOTES

*Thursday’s contest will be the first time sophomore guard Lexie Nelson will suit up against her former team. Nelson, a native of Butte, Mont., was a member of the Lady Griz in 2010-11 before transferring to Eastern Washington following her rookie year. She sat out the 2011-12 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Coincidentally, in the year with Montana, Nelson had her best offensive performance in a regular-season game against Eastern Washington, with a game-high 14 points.

*The all-time series between EWU and Montana, since EWU became a member of Division I in 1983-84, stands at 9-59, in favor of the Lady Griz. But Eastern has won one game in each of the last three years, and four overall in Schuller’s tenure. In those three most recent victories for EWU in 2010, 2011 and 2012, the Eagles held Montana to 36 percent shooting from the field and just 21 percent from beyond the arc.

Fast Look at the [Probable] Starting Five...


#13 | LEXIE NELSON (GUARD)

• Averaging 15.4 points per game, Nelson is Eastern’s leading scorer, while ranking second overall in the Big Sky. She has had two games this year with 20+ points, and has hit at least three 3-pointers in five different outings. In the last four games, she has shot 48 percent from the field and 39 percent from three.
• Along with her ability to score, Nelson has proved to be a valuable passer as well. After averaging just 1.8 assists in the first five games of the year, Nelson has nearly doubled that average in the last six, averaging 3.3 per game.
• Shooting 87 percent from the free throw line, Nelson is among the top five in the league an top 40 nationally in that category. She has earned more trips to the free throw line than any other player on the team, and has only missed seven in her 54 total attempts.
• A transfer from Big Sky rival Montana, Nelson sat out the 2011-12 season due to NCAA transfer rules. As a freshman with the Lady Griz, Nelson played in 32 of 33 games, including three postseason contests. Coincidentally, Nelson had the best offensive performance of her rookie year in a regular-season game against Eastern Washington, scoring 14 points.

#21 | CARRIE OJEDA (CENTER)

• Averaging a team-leading 7.8 rebounds per game, Ojeda ranks among the top five in the Big Sky in that category. She posted a career-high 17 boards in the season debut against Pacific (Nov. 11), and 11 in Eastern’s win at Boise State. She has had at least four boards in her eight other appearances this year.
• Ojeda posted her 100th-career block this season, and now has a total of 103 in her tenure. She ranks seventh in the EWU all-time career record book in that category, and is second among all active players in the Big Sky. She says shot blocking is her favorite part of the game.
• Including three already this season - which is third-most among all players in the Big Sky - Ojeda has posted nine double-doubles throughout her career.

#30 | CHENISE PAKOOTAS (GUARD)

• Pakootas has had at least one steal in eight of 11 games this year, and has had a career-high four steals on three different occasions. She is leading the Eagles in that statistical category, averaging 1.9 per game, which also ranks among the top 10 in the Big Sky.
• After averaging 13.6 minutes as a sophomore, Pakootas has doubled her playing time this season, averaging 25.9 minutes as a starter for the Eagles.
• Pakootas was the most efficient 3-point shooter in the Big Sky Conference in 2011-12, converting 40 percent of her long-range shots. She is currently averaging just over one 3-pointers per game. She hit a career-high four against the nationally-ranked California Golden Bears on Nov. 23.

#32 | AUBREY ASHENFELTER (GUARD)

• Ashenfelter has scored in double figures in three of the last five games, and has shot above 42 percent from the field in four of the last five. She earned her first-career double-double earlier this year in a win over Portland (Nov. 18), with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
• Currently, Ashenfelter is among the top three most efficient 3-point shooters in the Big Sky at 44.4 percent. Last year as a sophomore, she was making just 29.7 percent of her shots from long range. Ashenfelter has had at least one triple in nine of 11 games this year.
• With 1,501 minutes logged thus far in her career, Ashenfelter is the second-most experienced player on the team. She appeared in all 31 games as a true freshman in 2010-11 and started 29 of 30 last year. But her responsibilities have changed this year, from a role player to an aggressive, more consistent scorer.
• Ashenfelter is a two-time Big Sky All-Academic honoree.

#42 | MELISSA WILLIAMS (FORWARD)

• Williams has had a career-high 10 rebounds on two different occasions this year. She has led the team in that category in five of the last six games, and currently among the top 20 in the league, averaging 5.5 per game.
• Williams was one of only two true freshmen in the Big Sky to start every game of the 2011-12 season.
• As a rookie in 2011-12, Williams had at least five rebounds in 11 of 16 conference games, and improved her shooting efficiency from 39 percent in the non-conference season to 46 percent in league play.

First Four off the Bench


#4 | KYLIE HUERTA (POINT GUARD)

• After scoring a combined 10 points in the first five games of the year, Huerta has put up 36 tallies in the last six games combined, including a game-high and career-high 15 against defending Big Sky Champion, Idaho State (Dec. 22). She also had just five assists through the first five games of the year, but has dished out 26 since.
• Huerta is a 2011 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., which is the same school that produced Gonzaga legend and current WNBA star Courtney Vandersloot, as well as Nebraska four-year starter Lindsey Moore, who is a 2013 preseason Wade List and Naismith Trophy candidate…Huerta was the direct successor of these two nationally-acclaimed point guards…Kentwood is also the alma-mater of EWU men’s basketball great, Rodney Stuckey.

#12 | HANNA MACK (CENTER)

• A true freshman, Mack has appeared in nine of 11 games for EWU, including one start against nationally-ranked California. She averages 7.2 minutes per game.
• Mack was a four-year varsity letterwinner at Marist High School in Eugene, Ore., and standing at 6-foot-4, she is the tallest player signed by Schuller in more than five years.

#25 | HAYLEY HODGINS (GUARD)

• Coming off her redshirt-freshman year, Hodgins has played in 10 of 11 games for EWU this year, averaging 3.7 points and 2.0 rebounds per game.
• She had a career-high seven rebounds in Eastern’s most recent game against Warner Pacific, and has hit at least one 3-pointer in three of the last four.
• A 2011 graduate of Chiawana High School in Pasco, Wash., Hodgins was a two-time Columbia Basin Big Nine Cascade Division First-Team selection and was honored on the Seattle Time All-State Second Team.

#54 | LAURA HUGHES (CENTER)

• Hughes started the first two games of the year for Eastern, but has come off the bench in the last six. She averages 17.7 minutes per game.
• The 6-2 junior center is currently the fourth-leading scorer on the team, averaging 7.5 points per game. She has scored in double figures in three outings this year, including a career-high 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting in a narrow loss to Idaho on Nov. 27. She led the team with 18 points in its conference debut on Dec. 20 against Weber State, and currently ranks among the top 10 in the Big Sky in field goal percentage at 48.7 percent on the season.

Eagle News & Notes

EFFICIENT EAGLES: Eleven games in, and one weekend of Big Sky action in the books, Eastern Washington has proved to be one of the most offensively efficient teams in the league. The Eagles rank second in the Big Sky in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and 3-point field goal percentage. Eastern has shot 40 percent or better in five of its last six games. On the year, EWU is making 40.6 percent of its shots from the field, and 34 percent from beyond the arc. Eastern’s most dangerous threats on the perimeter are junior guard Aubrey Ashenfelter and sophomore guard Lexie Nelson, who currently rank third and sixth in the league, respectively.

PUTTIN' UP POINTS: In its last four games, which includes two victories at WSU and ISU to open the conference season, Eastern has averaged 70 points per game. That is 15 points more than its average from the first seven games of the year.

SHARING THE WEALTH...ON OFFENSE: Eastern has had six different players lead the team in scoring this year. Sophomore Lexie Nelson has had six team-high performances, while senior Carrie Ojeda, juniors Aubrey Ashenfelter, Chenise Pakootas and Laura Hughes, and sophomore Kylie Huerta have all led in points at least once. Eastern has had at least three different players score in double-figures in three of the last four games.

SHARING THE WEALTH...ON DEFENSE: Eastern is also a versatile rebounding team, as seven different players have led on the glass at least once this year. Senior Carrie Ojeda, juniors Aubrey Ashenfelter and Laura Hughes, and sophomore Melissa Williams have each posted at least one double-digit rebounding effort already this year.

IMPORTANCE OF AN EARLY LEAD: Eastern is 5-0 this year when leading at the half, and conversely, 0-4 when trailing at intermission. In fact, in four of its five wins this year, EWU has had a double-digit lead after the first 20 minutes. EWU had a six-point edge on Cal State Fullerton at the half, before going on to win it, 50-45.

REGARDING ASSIST/TURNOVER RATIO: Similar to the record discrepancy in halftime scores, EWU is 4-0 this year when committing less turnovers than its opponent, and is 5-1 when tallying more assists. Rebounds, free throws, 3-pointers and even field goal percentage don’t seem to have as much effect on EWU’s ability to win as the assist/turnover ratio.

NOT ONE FOR THE NAIL-BITER: So far, eight of Eastern’s 11 games this year have been decided by 10 or more points. The Eagles have an even split in those double-digit games, winning four and losing four. The Eagles have not played in an overtime game in nearly two years - the last one being a 76-73 loss to Idaho State on Feb. 5, 2011.

TOUGH SLATE: With back-to-back wins over Weber State and Idaho State during Big Sky opening weekend, Eastern reached the .500 (5-5) for the first time this season. But Eastern has already played two opponents (Cal, Gonzaga) who were either ranked or receiving votes in the most recent USA Today Sports Coaches Top 25 Poll. EWU opened the year against Pacific and Cal State Northridge - the two teams picked to finish at the top of the Big West Conference this year. On its 2012-13 schedule, the Eagles have a total of seven opponents that participated in national tournaments a year ago.

GATORADE GIRLS: This year, Eastern Washington boasts not one, but two Gatorade Players of the Year on its roster. A product of Butte (Mont.) High School, sophomore Lexie Nelson was the Gatorade Player of the Year for Montana in 2010, while freshman Tisha Phillips, a graduate of Lewiston (Idaho) High School, earned the honor for Idaho in 2012. Nelson was a four-time Class AA All-State selection, and led her team to back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Montana State Championships. Phillips was a two-time First-Team All-State selection, and won two Idaho 5A state titles with the Bengals.

PEAK PERFORMERS

• Sophomore Lexie Nelson poured in career-high 23 points on a 7-of-12 performance from the floor to lead Eastern to a 68-50 rout of Portland (Nov. 18) - its first win of the 2012-13 season. Nelson drained three 3-pointers and made 6-of-7 from the charity stripe. All this came in the midst of suffering a bloody nose midway through the game. She had 20 points in Eastern’s win at Boise State (Dec. 7), where she made 7-of-13 from the field, 3-of-6 from long range and 3-of-3 from the free-throw line. She also had five rebounds and three assists against BSU.

• Sophomore Kylie Huerta turned in the best weekend of her career in Eastern’s 2012-13 Big Sky openers against Weber State and Idaho State. Against the Wildcats, she was nearly flawless, converting 3-of-3 field goals, 1-of-1 free throws, and tallying a career-high seven assists with just one turnover. Two days later at Idaho State, she led the team to victory with a career-high 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting.

• Junior Laura Hughes had a career-night in Eastern’s road game at Idaho on Nov. 27. The 6-2 center made 8-of-12 shots from the floor and went a perfect 4-of-4 from the line for a career-high and team-leading 20 points. She also led EWU on the glass with nine rebounds, and contributed one steal. She had 16 points in the second half, which helped EWU overcome a 12-point halftime deficit and take a lead with five minutes remaining in the game. Hughes also made 8-of-12 shots in Eastern’s win at Weber State, for a team-leading 18 points.

• Junior Aubrey Ashenfelter had an impressive stat line in Eastern’s first win against Portland (Nov. 18). The 6-0 guard posted her first-career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, but she also tied her career-high in assists with six, and tallied two steals and one block. Ashenfelter was 5-of-8 against the Pilots, after going just 4-of-17 in the first two outings of 2012-13. In the very next game against nationally-ranked California, Ashenfelter made 5-of-11 shots, including two 3-pointers, for a team-leading 12 points, to go along with four assists, three rebounds and two steals. But her season-high scoring mark came in the Big Sky debut at Weber State (Dec. 20), where she had 18 points, with four 3-pointers and 6-of-6 from the charity stripe.

• Senior Carrie Ojeda hauled in a career-high 17 rebounds in the 2012-13 season debut against Pacific (Nov. 11). She also added 14 points for her first double-double of the year, and the seventh in her career. Ojeda had 10 defensive rebounds and seven on the offensive glass to lead all players in the game by at least seven. She also led Eastern in assists (4) and blocked shots (4) in that game. Ojeda notched her second double-double of the season with 11 points and 11 rebounds in a 50-45 win over Cal State Fullerton (Nov. 24).

PRESEASON TALKING POINTS

• Eastern won their lone exhibition game on Nov. 4 against the NAIA’s Carroll College. EWU out-scored the Saints by 22 in the second half to roll to a 65-38 victory. Nine different Eagles contributed points in the game, led by sophomore Lexie Nelson, who poured in 19.

• Eastern returns three starters and six other letterwinners, as well as three redshirts and four newcomers. But for the first time in three years, the Eagles will not welcome back an All-Big Sky player. Following the 2011-12 season, Eastern graduated two-time unanimous first-team selection and 2012 Big Sky MVP Brianne Ryan, as well as second-team honoree Chene Cooper, who accounted for nearly 50 percent of the Eagle scoring a year ago.

• Eastern Washington was picked eighth in the 2012-13 Big Sky Preseason Coaches’ and Media Poll - a ranking that would leave Eastern just out of the seven-team postseason tournament. But Eastern is certainly familiar with that kind of prediction - and familiar with proving it wrong. Prior to the 2009-10 season, the Eagles were selected seventh by both the coaches and media. That year, EWU went on to win the school’s first-ever Big Sky regular-season title with a 12-4 league record. Last season, the Eagles were picked seventh again, and ended up finishing third overall after a 10-6 run in conference play.

• Eastern is coming off one of its best seasons ever in the Big Sky Conference. With a 10-6 record in 2011-12, EWU took third in the league race - its second-best effort in more than two decades. The only better finish since 1987-88, when the Big Sky started sponsoring women’s sports, came two years prior in 2009-10, when the Eagles won the school’s first-ever regular-season title with a 12-4 league record.

• Over the last three years, Eastern has earned 30 Big Sky Conference wins, which is more than it had in the previous five seasons combined.

• In the past 10 seasons, Eastern Washington women’s basketball players have been honored 88 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 WBCA Academic Top 25 Honor Roll for 10 of the past 11 seasons.

• Eastern has advanced to the Big Sky Conference tournament in eight of Schuller’s 11 years as head coach, including the last three in a row. In the most recent 2011-12 season, Schuller led the Eagles to a first-ever sweep of the Montana road trip in school history. The back-to-back wins at Montana (Jan. 26) and Montana State (Jan. 28) were two of Eastern’s six total road wins in the Big Sky season - which tied another school record.

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