Eastern aims for coveted 20th win of season, and more importantly, a chance to play in its first Big Sky title game in 25 years
• 2013 BIG SKY CONFERENCE WOMEN'S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP •
The Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team has a lot to play for on Friday (March 15) when it takes on Northern Colorado in the semifinals of the 2013 Big Sky Conference women’s basketball championship in Missoula, Mont.
The No. 3-seeded Eagles and No. 6 Bears tipoff from Dahlberg Arena at 10 a.m. PDT/11 a.m. MDT.
What’s On the Line for EWU...
- A win Friday would give EWU its 20th win of the 2012-13 campaign. Not only would that be the first 20-win season for head coach Wendy Schuller in her 12-year head coaching career, but it would be the first for the EWU women’s basketball program since the 1984-85 season. Eastern has come awfully close several different times with 18 wins in 1986-87, 17 in 2002-03 and 19 in the 2009-10 campaign. The Eags enter this Friday’s contest at 19-11 overall.
- Eastern will be playing for a berth in the Big Sky Conference Championship game for the first time in exactly 25 years. EWU played in three-straight championship games from 1986-88, all of which were also in Missoula, Mont. But Eastern has not made it back since. The Eagles won the school’s first-ever tournament title in 1987 with a 77-74 win over the Lady Griz on their home floor. Eastern finished second to Montana in 1986 and 1988. The 1987 title was for the Mountain West Conference, as the Big Sky did not start sponsoring women's sports until 1988-89.
- In nine postseason appearances under Schuller, the Eagles have now advanced to the semifinals six times. But the 12-year head coach has never played for a championship. Eastern has a 5-8 record in the playoffs in Schuller’s tenure. Eastern's all-time record in the tournament is 10-17. Below is listing of EWU's complete tournament history...
2013 - Quarterfinals (Missoula, Mont.) #3 seed vs. #6 Montana
State - W 68-53
2012 - Quarterfinals (Pocatello, Idaho) #3 seed vs. #6 Sacramento State - L 61-71
2011 – Semifinals (Portland, Ore.) #6 seed vs. #1 Portland State – L 62-73
2011 – Quarterfinal (Portland, Ore.) #6 seed vs. #3 Montana State – W 77-68
2010 – Semifinals (Cheney, Wash.) #1 seed vs. #6 Montana State – L 57-65
2006 – Quarterfinals (Pocatello, Idaho) #4 seed vs. #5 Weber State – L 69-74
2005 – Quarterfinals (Missoula, Mont.) #4 seed vs. #5 Idaho State – L 55-82
2004 – Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) #6 seed vs. #1 Montana – L 54-81
2004 – Quarterfinals (Missoula, Mont.) #6 seed vs. #3 Weber State – W 58-57
2003 – Semifinals (Ogden, Utah) #5 seed vs. #1 Weber State – L 55-64
2003 – Quarterfinals (Ogden, Utah) #5 seed vs. #4 Portland State – W 71-64
2002 – Semifinals (Ogden, Utah) #5 seed vs. #1 Weber State – L 51-68
2002 – Quarterfinals (Ogden, Utah) #5 seed vs. #4 Northern Arizona – W 70-57
2001 – Quarterfinals (Pocatello, Idaho) #6 seed vs. #3 Montana – L 55-76
2000 – Quarterfinals (Missoula, Mont.) #6 seed vs. #3 Idaho State – L 46-55
1996 – Quarterfinals (Missoula, Mont.) #6 seed vs. #3 Weber State – L 63-71
1995 – Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) #4 seed vs. #1 Montana – L 47-72
1990 – Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) #4 seed vs. #1 Montana – L 61-72
1988 – Championship (Missoula, Mont.) #3 seed vs. #1 Montana – L 53-79
1988 – Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) #3 seed vs. #2 Montana State – W 81-65
*1987 – Championship (Missoula, Mont.) #2 seed vs. #1 Montana – W 77-74
*1987 – Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) #2 seed vs. #3 Weber State – W 71-65
*1986 – Championship (Missoula, Mont.) #3 seed vs. #1 Montana – L 39-65
*1986 – Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) #3 seed vs. #2 Idaho – W 62-60
*1985 – Semifinals (Moscow, Idaho) #3 seed vs. #2 Montana – L 65-66
*1984 – Championship (Missoula, Mont.) #2 seed vs. #1 Montana – L 62-77
*1984 – Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) #2 seed vs. #3 Idaho – W 82-71
* Mountain West Conference
Eastern vs. Northern Colorado: Series Notes
- The Eagles will be looking to avenge a heartbreaking loss to the Bears suffered just two weeks ago in Greeley. In that regular-season meeting on Feb. 28, Eastern had a five-point lead on UNC with 67 seconds remaining in the game, but a couple of costly turnovers, followed by a buzzer-beating jumper from UNC’s All-Big Sky First-Team guard D’shara Strange allowed the Bears to escape with a 67-66 victory.
- Eastern Washington shot 53 percent from the field in that game, compared to UNC’s 43 percent. EWU also knocked down 6-of-11 3-pointers, five of which came in the second half. But Northern Colorado out-rebounded the Eags, 38-27, and had an 11-7 advantage in steals and 5-1 edge in blocks. The Bears scored 22 of their 67 points off of Eagle turnovers.
- In first regular-season meeting on Jan. 19 in Cheney, the Eagles romped past the Bears, 63-38. By halftime, Eastern already had a 42-17 advantage after shooting 65 percent in the opening period. Northern Colorado made just seven field goals throughout the entire contest, and failed to convert a single 3-point shot on 22 attempts.
- Eastern did not have a single offensive rebound in that game (because they only missed eight total shots), but the Eagles did lead on the defensive boards, 33-22.
- EWU redshirt-freshman guard Hayley Hodgins, who was selected as the 2013 Big Sky Most Outstanding Freshman, went a perfect 7-of-7 from the field with three 3-pointers to finish with a game-high 17 points. Northern Colorado’s Strange, who averages 15 points per game, was held to just seven, while also committing five turnovers.
- Eastern and UNC come into Friday's postseason game with identical overall records at 19-11. Northern Colorado finished just ahead of EWU in the conference race at 15-5. Eastern finished 14-6.
- The all-time series between EWU and UNC stands at 10-4, in favor of Northern Colorado. The two programs have never met in the postseason.
- Eastern Washington comes into Friday’s contest as the hottest team in the Sky. The Eagles have won their last four in a row, which of course includes the 68-53 decision over Montana State in the quarterfinals. EWU won 11 of its last 14 heading into the conference tournament.
- The Eagles had three players named to the All-Big Sky Conference team, including redshirt-sophomore guard Lexie Nelson, senior center Carrie Ojeda, and redshirt-freshman guard Hayley Hodgins, who was selected as the league’s Most Outstanding Freshman. Nelson was one of six players on the All-Big Sky First-Team, while Ojeda earned honorable-mention accolades. Nelson and Hodgins were also Big Sky Players of the Week during the regular season.
- Nelson and Hodgins both scored in double figures in EWU’s quarterfinal win over Montana State on Wednesday. Nelson led the way with 18 points, 15 of which came in the second half. Hodgins scored all 11 of her points in the second period on a 4-of-7 effort from the floor, including 3-of-5 from downtown.
- Perhaps the biggest star of Wednesday’s quarterfinal game though was sophomore point guard Kylie Huerta, who played the full 40 minutes to finish with 12 points, nine assists, and six steals. In the last six games, Huerta has averaged 7.3 assists per game, and just 1.3 turnovers. The 5-foot-1 point guard - shortest in the league - not only leads the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio, but ranks among the top 20 in the nation.
- Not only is assist-to-turnover ratio an important stat for Huerta, but this season, when the Eags as a team have a ratio of 0.8 or better, they are 17-3. When below 0.8, the team is 2-8.
- Eastern Washington has proved to be the most efficient shooting team in the league this season - from all areas on the floor. The Eags are No. 1 in the Big Sky in field goal percentage (41.1), free throw percentage (75.3) and 3-point field goal percentage (35.5), with the latter two also ranking in the top 30 nationally.
- Eastern hit seven triples in Wednesday’s game against the Bobcats, including 4-of-9 in the second half. The Eagles went on a 21-2 run early in the period, including 15 unanswered points in a four-minute stretch. During the run, Hodgins knocked down two 3-pointers and Nelson hit one. Huerta had four assists and two steals. Junior guard Aubrey Ashenfelter had two steals and knocked down two field goals.
- For just the second time this season, Eastern had with five players in double figures against Montana State. One of them was junior center Laura Hughes, who finished with 13 points on a perfect 6-of-6 effort from the floor. But unfortunately, Hughes had to leave the game in the second half after hitting her head on the floor on the defensive end. She will be reevaluated today before a decision is made on her availability for Friday.
What the Bears Bring...
- Northern Colorado ranks third in the Big Sky in both scoring defense (55.5) and field goal percentage defense (36.9). The Bears first in the league in rebounding margin (+6.5), while offensively, they are second behind Eastern in field goal percentage (40.3). However, that high-percentage shooting does not come from everywhere on the floor like it does for EWU. The Bears are 10th out of 11 in the league in 3-point field goal percentage at 24.3, and they make on average just 3.3 per game to rank ninth. EWU has averaged 5.7 per game on 36 percent shooting.
- It’s all about the 1-2 punch of 5-10 guard D’shara Strange and 5-11 forward Lauren Oosdyke, both of whom were 2013 All-Big Sky selections. Strange also repeated this year as the Big Sky Defensive MVP, after averaging 2.5 steals and 7.3 rebounds per game. The two combine for 29 points per game for UNC - almost exactly half of the team’s usual scoring average of 59.8.
- Strange (All-Big Sky First Team) will handle the ball on every possession for UNC, and more often than not, end up taking the shot as well. She averages 14 shots per game, and has taken 100 more than anyone else on her team this season.
- From the post, Oosdyke (All-Big Sky Second Team) is a dangerous scorer and distributor. She ranks seventh in the league in scoring (13.2), eighth in field goal percentage (45.8) and seventh in assists (2.7).
- The Bears advanced to the semifinals after defeating Southern Utah in the early game on Wednesday, 67-56. Strange had 25 points in the game on 22 shots. UNC had three other players reach double figures, including Oosdyke, sophomore center Stephanie Lee and senior guard Victoria Timm.