Eagles struggle against the league-leading Lady Griz, shooting season low 13.3 percent from beyond the arc
The Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team gave up a big run at the end of the first half and another one to start the second, which enabled top-ranked Montana to roll to a 76-51 victory on Saturday (Feb. 2) in front of 3,500 screaming fans at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont.
The Eagles, who had won their previous five games in a row, drop to 12-9 on the season and 8-4 in conference play. Eastern is currently tied with Montana State (14-5, 8-4) for third place in the Big Sky standings - just a 1/2 game behind Northern Colorado (11-9, 8-3) and one a 1/2 games behind Montana, which improved to 14-5 on the year and 10-2 in league play with the win Saturday.
Although Eastern never led in the game following the first minute, the red and white stayed within striking distance for most of the first half. But a 12-2 run by the Lady Griz to close out the first period, compounded by a 10-4 run to start the second gave the home team a commanding 20-point advantage with under 14 minutes to play.
Trailing 51-31, the Eagles did score five of the next seven points to cut it to 17, but that was the closest they would come, as Montana held Eastern to 30 percent shooting in the second half, including 0-of-9 from 3-point range.
“Montana played a great game today,” said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. “They deserve a ton of credit. From the get go, they were firing on all cylinders. Montana plays a really physical brand of basketball, with a great defense, and we just didn’t respond to it well, especially in the second half. We were not as strong with the ball as we needed to be.”
Montana, which has averaged 65.2 points per game on 37.7 percent shooting this season, put up 76 points against the Eags, while shooting 48 percent from the field. The Lady Griz made 17-of-27 shots in the first half alone, and out-rebounded EWU for the game, 40-29.
Junior center Laura Hughes was the only Eagle who managed to eclipse double digits, as she finished with 11 points on a 5-of-8 effort from the floor. Sophomore point guard Kylie Huerta had nine points and six assists for EWU, while senior Carrie Ojeda chipped in seven points to go along with four rebounds.
Montana was led by All-Big Sky first team forward Katie Baker, who made 10 of her 15 shots from the field for a game-high 22. She also led her team on the glass with six rebounds.
“Katie Baker was fantastic. She was basically putting on a clinic out there,” said Schuller. “There were some things we wanted to do defensively that we had gone over in the scout, and we just weren’t doing them. I think for us, there was a fatigue factor involved. It just felt like mentally and physically, we were a step slow all day. You can’t play that way against a team the caliber of Montana and expect to have a chance.”
Eastern finished the game shooting 36 percent from the field and 13 percent from three - significantly lower than its season averages coming in of 41 and 37 percent, respectively.
The Eagles will return home to face Sacramento State and Northern Arizona for its next two Big Sky matchups. EWU plays Sac on Thursday (Feb. 7) at 6:05 p.m. before taking on the Lumberjacks Saturday (Feb. 9) at 2:05 p.m. at Reese Court. Eastern lost to both these teams earlier in the year when meeting on the road.