Coming off a 65-38 exhibition win, Eagles aim for continued improvement in challenging season debut
The Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team will enjoy home-court advantage in its 2012-13 season debut on Sunday (Nov. 11), but the Eagles expect that advantage to be put to the test, as it opens against a top team out of the Big West Conference.
Eastern welcomes the Tigers of Pacific University to Reese Court on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on the web at www.bigskytv.org, with commentary from the official voice of Eagle women’s basketball, Greg Talbott.
Pacific is one of eight opponents EWU will potentially face this season that participated in national tournaments a year ago. The Tigers finished the 2011-12 campaign with an 18-14 overall record, after advancing to the second round of the WNIT.
Pacific returns 11 letterwinners from that squad, including two players who started all 32 games in 2011-12, and three others who started at least 50 percent of them. The Tigers were picked second in this year’s Big West Preseason Poll, just two points back from preseason favorite Cal State Northridge - a team EWU will also face next Thursday (Nov. 15) in Northridge, Calif.
“Pacific is a great team,” said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller, who enters her 12th year at the helm of the program. “They are very athletic, and play extremely hard. They have a lot of experience back from last year’s team, so we know it is going to be a challenge.”
Schuller had a chance to preview her 2012-13 roster and test a few rotations in an exhibition game last Sunday (Nov. 4) against the NAIA’s Carroll College. After shooting just 24 percent in the first half, the Eagles went into the locker room with a narrow 26-21 lead on the Saints. But Eastern was able to completely control the second half, as it out-scored Carroll by 22 points for a 65-38 preseason victory.
“Early in the season like this, the games can get ugly at times, like it did in the first half against Carroll,” said Schuller. “But we settled in during the second half, and it definitely looked better. Hopefully, we are a week better heading into the opener. I’d like it if we were a month better going up against a team like Pacific, but really, the main thing we are looking for in these early-season games is improvement.”
Eastern returns three starters from its 2011-12 squad that finished 16-14 overall and 10-4 in Big Sky play. But Eastern did lose 50 percent of its scoring with the graduation of Big Sky MVP Brianne Ryan and All-Big Sky second team point guard Chene Cooper.
“I think we have a talented group of players this year,” said Schuller. “But it’s going to take awhile to put it all together. We have the ability to be a very good team in March, but we’re not as good right now in November. We just have to continue to put in the work and put in the time to get better every day.”
A Glance Back…
One of Eastern’s 14 losses in the 2011-12 campaign came against the Tigers in Stockton, Calif. But as the box score would indicate, the two teams played a highly competitive game that was not decided until the final minutes.
With less than six minutes remaining in that game, Eastern held a slight 55-53 lead on the Tigers. But Pacific made four field goals and 6-of-8 free throws in the final five minutes to come away with a 69-60 victory.
Besides a 42-34 reboudning advantage for the TIgers, the two teams were separated by only one in every other statistical category that night, including field goals made, 3-point field goals made, assists, steals, blocks and turnovers.
“I went back and watched our game from last year against them, and it was a battle both ways,” said Schuller. “There were bodies flying, we were running hard at one another. It was just a battle. I know Pacific will bring that same effort, and we have to be prepared to bring it again as well.”
Eastern and Pacific have met five times throughout history, three of which have been during Schuller’s tenure. Eastern owns a 3-2 advantage in the all-time series, despite playing in Cheney only once. That one home game was in 2008, when the Eagles beat Pacific by five points, 63-58.
||Tiger Den (Stockton, Calif.)
|11/24/84||Spanos Center (Stockton,
|12/21/07||Spanos Center (Stockton, Calif.)||L, 74-82|
||Reese Court (Cheney, Wash.)
|12/19/11||Spanos Center (Stockton, Calif.)||L, 60-69|
Eagle Preseason Notes
- 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.
- Eastern returns three starters and six other letterwinners, as well as three redshirts. 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. But Eastern has four talented newcomers to help fill the void, including the 2012 Idaho Gatorade Player of the Year, Tisha Phillips. In addition, the 2010 Montana Gatorade Player of the Year, Lexie Nelson, will suit up for the red and white.
- 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.
- 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 postseason tournament. But Eastern is certianly 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.