With three players reaching double figures and a complete team effort down the stretch, Eastern gains measure of revenge with big win in Bozeman
In much the same way that Montana State beat the Eagles back on Jan. 5 in Cheney, the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team returned the favor on Thursday (Jan. 31) at Worthington Arena in Bozeman, Mont. Eastern used a 15-0 run late in the second half to surge past the Bobcats, 68-59, for their fifth-consecutive Big Sky win.
EWU (12-8, 8-3 Big Sky) is now tied with Montana State (14-6, 8-3) for second place in the Big Sky standings. Montana, which Eastern will face on Saturday (Feb. 2) in Missoula, now holds a slight edge on first place with its 9-2 league record. The Eagles swept the Montana road trip last season for the first time in school history, and EWU is now half-way to doing it again.
“Well, we are only just starting the second half of our Big Sky season, but we definitely wanted to start it off on a good note,” said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. “This win tonight keeps us in the hunt, which is all we are trying to do right now. But like I’ve always said, if you can get a couple big road wins in this league, you give yourselves a chance. We were fortunate to squeak this one out tonight.”
The first meeting this year between Eastern and Montana State featured 12 ties and 15 lead changes, but the Bobcats used a 15-4 run in the second half to pull away for the 73-60 victory in Cheney.
But in the rematch in Bozeman, it was just the opposite. After six ties and nine lead changes, EWU was the team to find a late surge, as the Eagles overcame a nine-point deficit midway through the half to end the game on a 17-2 run.
After scoring nine unanswered points, Montana State enjoyed a 48-39 lead at the 12:07-mark of the second half. But following a timeout called by Schuller, the Eagles slowly but surely began to see a shift in momentum.
Eastern hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the deficit to one at 9:46, but MSU kept attacking and scored nine of the next 13 points to go up 57-51 with six and a half minutes to play.
Then, a basket by junior Aubrey Ashenfelter, followed by an old-fashioned 3-point play for senior Carrie Ojeda sparked the game-winning run for EWU.
The Bobcats went more than five minutes without a field goal or free throw, during which time EWU scored 15 points. Five different Eagles contributed at least two tallies during the late scoring spree.
“We had a lot of players step up tonight, doing things that don’t even necessarily show up in the stats,” said Schuller. “Carrie had great numbers, but she’ll be the first to tell you that she was getting fed the ball in places where all she had to do was turn around and score. Then there’s Aubrey, who didn’t put up huge numbers, but was an absolute warrior tonight. She hit big, big shots when we needed them and was great defensively. Lexie [Nelson] was spot-on shooting the ball, and took good shots for our team, and Chenise [Pakootas], who was not feeling well at all before the game, came in and gave us some really solid minutes. It is especially fun when you win as a team like that.”
Ojeda finished with a season-high 18 points, followed by Nelson who tallied 17 on a 6-of-9 effort from the floor. Nelson drained three 3-pointers, while also contributing six rebounds, three assists and one steal.
Ashenfelter had 11 points - all of which came in the second half. She scored six of those 11 points in the final eight minutes.
Sophomore Kylie Huerta, who has started the last five games for EWU after coming off the bench in the first 15, was knocking on the door of a triple-double. The 5-1 point guard finished with nine points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Huerta’s eight boards was not only a team high for the game, but marked a career high for the sophomore from Covington, Wash.
“Kylie made some great adjustments at halftime that really helped us have success in the second half,” said Schuller. “She has been really solid for us and is working really hard to understand what I want and what we’re trying to do as a team. Tonight, we were moving the ball well and making those extra passes, and that is just a sign of good team basketball.”
Eastern finished the game shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three. The Eagles went 10-of-10 at the free-throw line, including 6-of-6 in the final 40 seconds to preserve the win.
Montana State shot 33.3 percent for the game, and made just 4-of-17 from long range. EWU had 17 assists, compared to 10 for the Bobcats, and also out-rebounded the home team in the second half, 20-13.