January 22, 2013

Eagles Host Southern Utah on Saturday to Wrap Up First Half of Big Sky Season

Meeting for the first time in a decade, Eastern looks to keep three-game winning streak alive against high-scoring T-Birds

Upcoming Games/Coverage

Eastern vs. Southern Utah
Saturday, Jan. 26 | 2:05 p.m. PST
Reese Court | Cheney, Wash.
Game Notes
Live Webcast | Live Stats


The Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team is coming off a busy week that saw the team play three games in five days. But Eastern won all three of those games, so the team is eager to get back on the floor for more Big Sky action.

Eastern wraps up the first half of its 20-game conference slate this Saturday (Jan. 26) when it hosts Big Sky newcomer Southern Utah at 2:05 p.m. at Reese Court.

Although playing for the first time as conference rivals, this will be the eighth meeting in history between the two programs. The Eagles and Thunderbirds have met twice in head coach Wendy Schuller’s tenure - once in her inaugural season in 2001-02 and again in 2003-04. Both ended in double-digit losses for EWU.

“Southern Utah will be interesting because they’re a newcomer to the league and the last time we did play them was many years ago when they had a different coaching staff,” said Schuller. “I think early on in this game, it will be a lot of just feeling each other out and trying to understand each other’s personnel because I really don't know a whole lot about them.”

The Thunderbirds come into the game with a 9-8 overall record and 3-4 mark in league play. Southern Utah was picked to finish last in this year’s Big Sky preseason coaches’ poll, but with wins over North Dakota, Sac State and Weber State, SUU is, at least right now, in the running for a postseason bid.

With three wins in its last three outings, EWU is currently in third place in the Big Sky standings with a 6-3 league record. EWU has won its last two at home and picked up a road win Monday at Portland State.

“We are obviously happy about the way we’ve played these last few games,” said Schuller. “We’ve had some young players step up and play really well for us, and we’re starting to figure some things out as a team. There are still some areas I know we can improve on, but we tend to ask a lot of our players once we get into Big Sky play in terms of learning the scouts and understanding different things. This was a particularly hard week with three games in five days, but I was really impressed with how our team responded to the challenge.”

Redshirt-freshman Hayley Hodgins and sophomore Kylie Huerta both earned a starting nod last weekend in EWU's trio of games, and the two young players definitely delivered. Hodgins was selected as the Big Sky Player of the Week after averaging 18 points per game on 58 percent shooting, while Huerta dished out 17 assists to go along with 25 points, 10 rebounds and five steals.

Eastern will need their help, as well as the help of its regulars in order to keep up with Southern Utah - a team that anks second in the league in scoring offense. The Thunderbirds have averaged 69.9 points per game this year, which is among the top 50 in the nation.

SUU does not have one lethal scorer, but rather a large group of players who all average more than seven points per game. As a team, the T-Birds shoot 39.6 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from three.

Southern Utah is also the best rebounding team in the league, averaging 44.2 per game. The Thunderbirds are especially effective ont he offensive glass, leading all other teams in the leauge in offensive boards by at least three per game.

Big Sky Breakdown: As the first half of the Big Sky season winds down, Eastern Washington (10-8, 6-3 Big Sky) finds itself in third place in the league standings - just 1/2 game behind Montana (6-2) and 1 1/2 games behind conference-leading Montana State (7-1). With 11 teams in the league this year, the Big Sky Tournament will now include seven teams, with the No. 1 seed earning a bid all the way to the semifinals. Idaho State (5-3), Sacramento State (4-3), Northern Colorado (4-3), Southern Utah (3-4), Northern Arizona (3-4) and Portland State (3-6) currently represent the other top teams fighting for a spot in the postseason, with only 1 1/2 games separating the No. 4 - 8 teams. But with more than half of the league season remaining, things could look entirely different come March. The 2013 Big Sky Tournament will be held March 14-16 at the site of the regular-season champion.

News & Notes


STREAKING THROUGH THE SKY
: The first half of the Big Sky season has been a collection of streaks for EWU. The Eagles started the league season 3-0, then suffered three-consecutive losses before celebrating three wins in its three most recent outings.

DIALED IN FROM DOWNTOWN: Eastern Washington is not only the best 3-point shooting team in the Big Sky this season, but the Eagles rank among the top 30 in the nation in terms of efficiency. EWU is converting 35.6 percent of its shots from downtown, and 40.1 percent in league-only games.  Eastern averages 5.8 3-point field goals per game, which is second only to Sacramento State at 6.4. But the Hornets have taken 53 more threes this season than EWU - not nearly as efficient. Eastern has four players who rank in the top four in that category, including Hayley Hodgins (4th), Aubrey Ashenfelter (5th), Lexie Nelson (11th) and Chenise Pakootas (12th). In the last three games, those four players have combined for 20 made threes.

BACK ON TRACK: In the first five games of the 2013 calendar year, EWU was shooting just 36.8 percent from the floor, and 35.5 percent from three. But in its last three games, all of which were wins, Eastern has converted 48 percent of its field goals, and 42 percent from downtown. The Eagles are first in the league in 3-point field goal percentage (35.6), second in free throw percentage (71.9) and third in overall field goal percentage (40.3).

HODGINS HAS ARRIVED: Redshirt-freshman Hayley Hodgins has quickly become one EWU's biggest offensive threats. In the last five Big Sky games, the 5-10 guard has averaged 16.2 points on 55 percent shooting. She has made 13-of-23 shots from beyond the arc, and 12-of-16 at the free-throw line. Against UNC, Hodgins did not miss a single shot all game, going 7-of-7 from the field, and 3-of-3 from downtown, to become the first player in the Big Sky this season to shoot 100 percent from the field with at least five attempts. For leading EWU in those back-to-back wins against North Dakota and Northern Colorado, Hodgins was named the Big Sky Player of the Week - the first EWU player honored in the 2012-13 season. Here is what head coach Wendy Schuller had to say about Hayley's recent contributions: “Hayley has arrived in a lot of ways. She is a player we always felt was capable, and now she is to the point where she has more confidence in herself and her teammates have tremendous confidence in her. It’s a lot of fun to see players grow up and blossom into what you always believed they could be. I think Hayley has done so well because she’s not forcing anything and we’re not forcing it with play calls. She is just getting everything within the scope of what we do. She is really solid because she can shoot the three and also put it on the floor. She just does a great job of being patient and taking what comes.”

OJEDA AIMING FOR A DOUBLE-DOUBLE: Senior Carrie Ojeda had a goal at the beginning of the season to average a double-double in her final year in red and white. The senior center has already posted five double-doubles this year - the third most in the Big Sky. Right now, she is just a couple rebounds shy of her goal, as she is averaging 10.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Ojeda has had a total of 11 double-doubles in her career. Interestingly, she has registered one of them in each of the last four regular-season meetings against Portland State.

150 and COUTING: After being denied the big victory for three-straight games, EWU head coach Wendy Schuller finally earned win No. 150 with Eastern's 75-72 victory over North Dakota on Jan. 17. Schuller has picked up two more since then , for a career record of 152-88 in 12 years as head coach at EWU.

WILLIAMS' CAREER WEEKEND UNFORTUNATELY ENDS WITH INJURY: Sophomore forward Melissa Williams had the best weekend of her Eagle career in Eastern's recent outings at Northern Arizona (Jan. 10) and Sacramento State (Jan. 12). She posted back-to-back double-doubles, averaging 11.5 points (nearly triple her season average) and 11.0 rebounds, while also leading the team in assists with seven. Against the Lumberjacks, Williams had a career high in both points and rebounds, as she finished with 13 tallies on 4-of-8 shooting from the field and 5-of-7 from the free throw line, and grabbed 11 boards. She also had four assists, one block and one steal. Two days later against the Hornets, she had 10 points and 11 rebounds, to go along with three assists and two steals. But her stellar weekend came to a premature end when she went down with a knee injury in the final six minutes of the Sac State game. Williams suffered a sprained MCL, and will not play this weekend against UNC and PSU.

VALUE OF VERSATILITY..ON OFFENSE: Eastern has had seven different players lead the team in scoring this year. Sophomore Lexie Nelson leads the way with eight team-high performances, while Carrie Ojeda, Aubrey Ashenfelter, Chenise Pakootas, Laura Hughes, Kylie Huerta and Hayley Hodgins have all led in points at least once. Eastern has had at least three different players score in double-figures in eight of the last 11 games for a 8-3 record.

VALUE OF VERSATILITY...ON DEFENSE: Eastern also shares the wealth defensively, in both rebounding and steals. Seven different players have led in those categories 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 in the 2012-13 campaign.

IMPORTANCE OF AN EARLY LEAD: Eastern earned its first win of the year on Thursday when trailing at the half. The Eagles were down by five points to UND at halftime, but rallied for a three-point win. Overall on the year, EWU is 9-2 when leading or tied at the half, and 1-5 when trailing at intermission.

REGARDING ASSIST/TURNOVER RATIO: Similar to the record discrepancy in regards to halftime scores, EWU is 5-0 this year when committing less turnovers than its opponent, and is 6-1 when tallying more assists.  In games that Eastern has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.8 or higher, the Eagles are 8-2. When the assist-to-turnover ratio is below 0.8, the team is 2-6.

NOT ONE FOR THE NAIL-BITER: Eastern Washington has 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. In fact, 13 of Eastern’s 18 games this year have been decided by 10 or more points. But that's not to say Eastern wouldn't fare well in a nail-biter, because in the five games this year that have been decided by less than 10 points, EWU is 4-1.

TOUGH SLATE: During the non-conference season, in which Eastern went 4-5, the team played two opponents (Cal, Gonzaga) who were either ranked or receiving votes in the 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, and who both have a .600 or better winning percentage at this point in the 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.

WHAT WENDY HAS DONE...
• 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. Behind Montana's Robin Selvig, who has been with the program for a whopping 35 years, Schuller is the second-longest tenured coach in the Big Sky in terms of years coaching in the conference. And the most successful years of those 12 has been the three most recent.  In the last three seasons, Eastern has earned 30 Big Sky Conference wins, which is more than it had in the previous five seasons combined.

• Her 2009-10 squad captured the school's first-ever Big Sky regular-season title, and hosted the league tournament for the first time in school history. Schuller was named Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year after leading the squad to a 12-4 mark in the conference and 19-12 overall, which were the best records posted by an Eagle squad since the 1984-85 season when Eastern was still a member of the Mountain West Conference. That year, the Eagles advanced to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, marking the school’s first national postseason appearance since the 1987 season.

• It should also be noted that in 2009-10 - the year EWU won the Big Sky regular-season title - the Eagles were picked seventh in the preseason coaches' poll. Last year in 2011-12, the Eagles were again picked seventh, and ended up finishing third. And right now, Schuller's 2012-13 team, which was picked eighth in the preseason poll, is currently atop the Big Sky standings with a perfect 3-0 record.
 
• Schuller has had 13 different players named to one or more All-Big Sky Conference teams, including two league MVPs in Julie Piper (2010) and Brianne Ryan (2012), as well as the school’s first Big Sky Newcomer of the Year, Julie Page, who competed in the 2012 London Olympics as a captain for the Great Britain national team.

• 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, and in 2003-04, the Eagles led the nation with a 3.63 grade point average.

• In the 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. Schuller's teams have in fact won two years in a row at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont., which is a milestone in itself considering the Eagles as a program have only recorded four wins there throughout history. Former head coach Bill Smithpeters also won twice in Missoula - once in 1980, and again in 1987 when EWU upset Montana in the championship game of the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
 
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.

ON THE RECRUITING TRAIL...
Eastern Washington University head women’s basketball coach Wendy Schuller announced the signing of four high-school standouts to national letters of intent during the early signing period. Eastern’s 2013 recruiting class includes Spokane native Jade Redmon, 5-9 guard Bethany Montgomery out of Tacoma, Wash., 6-0 forward Haley Shaner from Sacramento, Calif., and  6-3 center Marly Anderson of Hillsboro, Ore., who ranks among the top 60 nationally for her position, according to Hoopgurlz.com.

Jade Redmon is a standout for Mead High School. She was a 2012 All-Greater Spokane League First-Team selection, averaging a team-leading 14.6 points per game during her junior campaign. A dual-sport athlete, Redmon also excelled as a member of the girls soccer team, earning All-GSL honorable mention accolades as a defender in 2011. Recently, she helped lead the Panthers to an Elite Eight berth in the 2012 4A State Soccer Championships.Outside of her high school career, Redmon plays for the eminent Northwest Blazers AAU team, under coach Steve Klees. In 2012, her Northwest Blazers Orange team earned a 43-2 record. The club team captured the End of Trail Music City Madness Tournament title in Nashville, Tenn., where Redmon was selected to the all-tournament team. The Orange also won the elite division championship at the MSNM Tournament in San Diego, Calif. Redmon comes from a family of successful collegiate athletes. Her older sister, Jazmine, is a junior point guard with the nationally-acclaimed Gonzaga women’s basketball team, while mother, Shaney, was a track and field athlete at Washington State University. Coincidentally, Shaney was coached at WSU by Eastern’s current head track and field coach, Marcia Mecklenburg.

Bethany Montgomery comes to Eastern from Wilson High School in Tacoma, Wash. Montgomery is a three-time All-Narrows League selection, earning first-team honors as a freshman and junior, and second-team accolades as a sophomore. She was a Tacoma News Tribune All-Area second-team selection in 2012 and earned All-Area Honorable Mention from the Seattle Times that same year. As a junior, she averaged 13.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.4 steals for WHS. Montgomery led the Rams to a Narrows League title in 2012 with a perfect 10-0 record. Her team went on to finish second in the West Central District that year with a 20-4 overall mark. Montgomery is also a Narrows League high jump champion, and was named to the Seattle Times track and field All-Area honorable mention team in 2012. Montgomery has earned the WIAA Distinguished Scholastic Award for three-consecutive years and was a finalist for Tacoma Athlete of the Year in 2010.

Haley Shaner, a 6-0 forward out of West Campus High School in Sacramento, Calif., is the reigning two-time Golden Empire League MVP, and was a 2012 Sacramento Bee All-Metro second-team selection. Averaging 16.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and just over two assists, steals and blocks per game in 2012, Shaner led her team a runner-up finish in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Championships. The Warriors reached the section title game for the first time in school history after a 50-47 upset of rival Colfax in the semifinals, which marked West Campus’ 19th-consecutive win of the 2011-12 season. Shaner registered a game-high 14 points and nine rebounds in the historic win. She also led her team to two-consecutive Golden Empire League titles, including a perfect 10-0 run in 2012.

Marly Anderson is rated as the No. 55 recruit in the nation for her position, according to Hoopgurlz.com. She is a three-year starter for the Glencoe Crimson Tide in Hillsboro, Ore., and also plays for one of the top club teams in the nation - Team Concept. Anderson is a three-time All-Pacific Conference selection, which includes first-team honors in 2012. As a junior, she averaged 12.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per game to help lead her team to a 6A-4 Pacific Conference regular-season title. Behind a 21-point, 12-rebound performance from Anderson in the opening round, the Crimson Tide advanced to the Elite Eight of the Class 6A Oregon State Championships in 2012. With Team Concept, Anderson played alongside 6-5 post Mercedes Russell - the nation’s top-rated recruit for 2013. The five-star recruit and Oregon Class 5A Player of the Year signed with Tennessee on Wednesday (Nov. 14).

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