March 13, 2013

Eagles Heat Up in Second Half to Defeat Bobcats, 68-53, in Big Sky Tournament Quarterfinals

Defense leads to offense in matchup with Montana State, as Eagles use 15-0 run in second period to seize momentum for big win

With five different Eagles scoring in double figures, and a scintillating 15-0 run in the second half, the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team was able to get past the Bobcats of Montana State, 68-53, on Wednesday (March 13) in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Big Sky Conference women’s basketball tournament in Missoula, Mont.

No. 3-seed Eastern advances to the semifinals to take on No.2-seed Northern Colorado on Friday (March 15) at 10 a.m. PDT/11 a.m. MDT at Dahlberg Arena.  

It was not a pretty start for either team on Wednesday afternoon in Missoula, as the Eags and Bobcats combined for 21 turnovers in the first period, and made just 21-of-59 shots between them. But the second half was a different story.

Eastern committed just four turnovers total in the second period, and shot 57 percent from the field, including 4-of-9 from beyond the arc. EWU forced nine Bobcat turnovers, which it converted into 11 points on the other end, and after being out-rebounded in the first 20 minutes, 22-17, EWU and MSU were even on the boards in the second.

“I thought defense really keyed our offensive effort in the second half,” said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. “I thought we did a good job putting pressure on them and getting our hands on some balls. That maybe got them a little frustrated, and then we were able to get into the open floor and run.”

Coming out of the break, Montana State hit its first two baskets to take a 29-26 lead, but at that point, Eastern Washington caught fire. Over the next five minutes, the Eagles made six-consecutive baskets, including two threes from Eastern’s Big Sky Freshman of the Year, Hayley Hodgins.

The Eagles scored 15 unanswered points before MSU’s Peyton Ferris put a momentary stop to the bleeding with a mid-range jumper at the 12:29-mark of the second half. But in what seemed like the blink of an eye, EWU had turned that three-point deficit into a 16-point lead at 49-33.

During the run, EWU had three different players score at least four points, thanks in large part sophomore point guard Kylie Huerta, who contributed four assists and two steals during the surge.

“Kylie did a great job of making sure we were organized,” said All-Big Sky first-team guard Lexie Nelson, who finished with a game-high 18 points, including three in a row to spark the Eagle run. “She made sure we all stayed on the same page, and we just kept running and pushing the ball.”

With 9:08 to play, the Bobcats had managed to cut the lead to nine (49-40), but that was the closest they would come, as EWU’s junior center Laura Hughes converted three-straight layups to put Eastern back up by 17.

Hughes was one of five Eagles to eclipse double-digits in the game, as she finished with 13 on a perfect 6-of-6 effort from the floor. Unfortunately though, Hughes made a premature exit after she took hard fall on the defensive end.

Nelson led the team with 18 points, while Huerta and junior guard Aubrey Ashenfelter both finished with 12. Huerta was one assist shy of her first-career double-double, as she finished with nine times, as well as six steals.

Hodgins tallied with 11 points, including a three big ones from downtown, which was the catalyst for the momentum swing in the second half.

“It was good to see Hayley knock down that three out of the corner, which kind of got us going,” said Schuller. “We had five players in double figures. We talk about this all the time - when we share the basketball, we are a good team. In the first half, I thought we spent a lot of time going one-on-one. It was pass, then the next one dribble, then pass, then dribble. In the second half, I thought we shared the ball a lot better. We got into the open floor, kind of let Kylie do her work, and had players knock down some shots.”

Eastern finished the game shooting 48 percent from the field, while holding MSU to 36.7. EWU had 13 assists and 15 turnovers, compared to just nine assists and 19 miscues for the Bobcats. Eastern is now 17-2 in the 2012-13 campaign when posting an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.8 or better.

Montana State had three players record eight points, but not a single player reached double digits. After scoring a combined 36 points against EWU in the regular-season meetings, All-Big Sky second-team forward Rachel Semansky was held to just eight points in the playoff meeting.

"Well our game plan was to double team her [Semansky] because she has had more than a few good games against us over the past four years," said Schuller. "She is an outstanding player and so we really wanted ot try and keep the ball out of her hands as much as we possibly could. There were a couple times ithurt us, but for the most part, I thought the team followed the game plan and it was effective for us."

With the men’s tournament also taking place in Missoula, Eastern will get a full day to decompress before facing No. 2 Northern Colorado on Friday. The Bears advanced to the semis after a 67-59 win over Southern Utah in the game just before Eastern's on Wednesday. The Eagles and Bears split during the regular-season, with each team winning on its home floor. But in Cheney, EWU dominated the Bears, 63-38, and in Greeley, UNC only escaped by a one-point margin (67-66) on a buzzer-beating floater by UNC's All-Big Sky first-teamer D’shara Strange.

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