Eastern Women Open Big Sky Play

Dec. 31, 2006

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The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team (5-8) opens up Big Sky Conference play this week, taking on Montana State and Montana on Thursday (Jan. 4) and Saturday (Jan. 6), respectively. Both contests begin at 6:05 p.m. PT.

The Eagles have played a challenging preseason schedule in preparation for the Big Sky slate. Two of Eastern's opponents are currently ranked in the top 25 of the collegerpi.com rankings, LSU (18th) and Washington (23rd). Davidson (47th) and Gonzaga (84th) also served as challenges for the Eagles.

"I hope that the tough preseason schedule we have played will prepare us, because the Big Sky is very talented," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "There are great players, great teams, great coaches, and we know that every game is going to be a battle and that we cannot take a night off."

The first opponent, Montana State, come into the conference season on a three-game losing streak with the most recent loss coming, 81-53, on the road to Gonzaga. The Bobcats, who will be looking to turn their ship around on Thursday, will enter the contest with a 5-7 mark (3-3 at its home court, Worthington Arena). Even though the Bobcats may not have a stellar record, it is much improved on last season, when MSU went 3-23.

Eastern's opponent on Saturday, Montana, is currently the top-ranked opponent on the Eagles' schedule. The Lady Griz are ninth in the www.collegerpi.com rankings following a pair of wins and a championship at the Lady Griz Holiday Classic. Montana has by far the best record of any team in the conference and will enter its Thursday home game versus Portland State with a 12-1 record (7-0 at its home court, Dahlberg Arena). Overall, Montana has won nine straight and its only loss came to then-No. 6 (currently No. 7) Ohio State on the road, 83-43.

The Grizzlies are led by Mandy Morales, who has just set a conference record by being named Big Sky Conference Player of the Week for the fourth consecutive week.

"We start off with one of the toughest road trips right off the bat, playing two teams who are playing real well, so we have got to be ready," Schuller said.

"Montana State is a lot better than they were last year. They are young, but they are playing real good basketball. They have been in great games and have beaten some great teams. It's always going to be hard to play in Bozeman and they are a good basketball team, so we know that is going to be a tough one right off the bat.

"Then we have the place which is almost impossible to win in the Big Sky. You have seen a few teams the last couple years that have shown it is a possibility. Missoula's tough (UM is 23-3 in its last 26 home Big Sky games) and Montana's as good as they have been the last several years. Mandy Morales is playing unbelievably (first in the Big Sky in ppg and apg, second in three-point and free-throw shooting). She is the Rodney Stuckey of our league right now.

"We know we will have a lot of elements going against us, but a sign of great teams is when they can persevere in tough times and can step up when the bell is rung. That is what we are going to try and do on this road trip."

Amanda Returns Home

Eagle freshman Amanda Murdoch will be returning to Bozeman on Thursday for the first time on the basketball court since leading Bozeman High School to the 2005-06 AA state championship. Murdoch claimed state tournament MVP honors and hit 11-of-17 shots in the title game, a 52-34 win over Butte High School. The state title was the school's fifth in school history and first since 1999.

Let's Party Like Its 19 ... I Mean 2006!

This past Sunday, Eastern Washington completed an impressive win over the visiting Portland Pilots, 84-66. The game was just the fourth in history for Eastern on New Year's Eve, as EWU improved to 3-1 in games played on this date. The previous games on that particular game came in 2003 (a 72-69 win over Gonzaga at Spokane Arena), 2000 (an 81-58 home victory over Colgate) and 1993 (a 64-42 loss at Washington).

The game saw a number of impressive individual performances for the Eagles. Phynique Allen set Eagle season and personal career highs in both assists (8) and steals (5). Joanna Chadd tallied 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting (5-of-8 on three-point attempts) to mark the sixth time so far this season she has hit or surpassed the 20-point mark. Brittney Osborn set a career high in points with 20 versus the Pilots.

Eastern took control of the game right from the opening tip, taking commanding 14-0 and 21-2 leads. The Pilots would not drain its second field goal of the game until 10:28 had elapsed off the clock.

"I am really happy that we came out in the first five minutes with great offensive and defensive intensity," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "I thought that we set the tone early. Portland is a team that jumps on teams early, and that was something that we worked hard to thwart early on. I'm really proud of our kids for getting off to such a great start. It was a great team win tonight."

Northwestern State Goes Down

The Eagles ended a six-game losing streak on Dec. 15, earning a 71-67 victory over Northwestern State. Phynique Allen got EWU's scoring going by tallying the first 11 Eagle points of the night. She would finish with 16 tallies, the second-highest point total of her career.

Brittney Osborn led the Eagles in scoring by tallying 17 points, marking the first time this season she has led the team in scoring.

"Brit did a great job coming off the bench and bringing in a great deal of energy," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "It's like having another starter on your bench. She has bought into the role of being the best sixth man in our league. You need to have those kinds of players on your team and to have that positive attitude to embrace the role."

Sydney Benson also had an impressive night, recording her second double-double of the season, contributing 14 points and leading all players with 13 rebounds.

Eastern would lead by as many as 12 before Northwestern State rallied late to tie the game at 61 with 3:34 left. At that point, Eastern Washington showed its resolve, scoring the next six points to pull away and put the game out of reach.

"I'm glad we got that monkey off of our back," Schuller said. "Northwestern State is a good athletic team and they play very hard, so it was a good win for us."

Eastern Washington Welcomes Southern Teams

Northwestern State (located in Natchitoches, La.) and Davidson (located in Davidson, N.C.) became the first two schools from the South to ever visit Cheney to play the Eagles, taking on Eastern in a four-day span in mid-December.

The closest school geographically to the South to ever play on the Eastern Washington campus was Texas-Pan American, who fell to Eastern, 59-45, on Dec. 6, 2002.

Eastern defeated Northwestern State on Dec. 15 by a 71-67 score to snap a six-game losing streak before falling to Davidson, 67-58, three days later.

Spokane-Area Rivalry: 103-102!

Eastern Washington and Gonzaga played a run-and-gun contest on Dec. 9, before the visiting Bulldogs pulled out a razor-thin 103-102 overtime victory over the Eagles.

Neither team had previously played in a game where both squads scored 100 or more points.

The last time that Eastern Washington reached 100 points in any game came 19 years ago, in a 105-79 win at Portland State on Dec. 11, 1987.

In the 35 contests played between the teams, never before had even one team scored 100 or more points. The overtime contest was the first in the all-time series, as well.

Free Throws Are Falling From the Sky

The Eagles broke their school record for free throws made in their dramatic 103-102 overtime loss to Gonzaga on Dec. 9, shooting 36-of-46 from the charity stripe.

The previous record of 35 made was set on Feb. 5, 2004, in an 80-75 Eagle win over Montana State. The school record of 48 attempts was also set in that contest.

The 36 made versus GU is also the fourth-highest total in Big Sky Conference history.

UW Visits For First Time in 16 Years

The Washington Huskies paid its initial visit to Cheney in 16 years on Nov. 21 and narrowly left town with a win.

The Huskies took control the majority of the game, taking as high as a 15-point lead, but the Eagles would quickly respond with a 17-4 run to tie the contest at 42-all with 11:29 remaining. The teams remained close down the stretch before Washington claimed its 67-59 win. The Eagles trailed by just two with 5:08 left and four with 1:49 remaining.

What a Start!

The Eagles started the season with a 3-0 record for the first time in 22 years by sandwiching a pair of home victories over Montana Tech and Corban College with an impressive 20-point road win over UC Irvine.

Versus the Montana Tech Orediggers, Eastern used 12-2, 14-2 and 7-0 runs to claim the 75-69 victory. The final spurt came with the score tied at 67 just two minutes from the final buzzer.

A 22-5 run early in the second half versus UC Irvine allowed the Eagles to pull away from the Anteaters in their 80-60 victory.

Versus Corban College, Eastern Washington used a commanding 30-9 run to put separation between the two teams and won, 96-57.

Eagles Third in Big Sky Attendance

Eastern Washington has seen a high number of people attend games so far this season, as evidenced by its average attendance of 801, which places the Eagles third among Big Sky Conference teams.

The two Montana schools pace the league, as Montana has drawn 3,459 per contest and Montana State is averaging 1,255. Following the Eagles, two schools average from 600-700 per game and the remaining quartet average 300-500 per contest.

Roster Breakdown - Hometowns

Eastern Washington's roster, as always, has a strong Washington flair to it, as nine of the 14 players reside in the Evergreen State. Four of those are from cities located east of the Cascades: Katy Baker (Spokane), Anny Eller (Kennewick), Leah Gonnella (Spokane) and Jessica Huntington (Yakima). Of the remaining five players, one each is from California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon.

Success in the Big Sky

The past two seasons, the Eagles have compiled consecutive .500-or-better conference seasons for the first time since the 1986-87 and 1987-88 campaigns. In 2004-05, the Eagles went 8-6 in Big Sky play, 16-12 overall. The following season, EWU's record was 7-7 in conference action, 13-15 overall.

EWU enters the 2006-07 campaign having qualified for the six-team Big Sky Conference Tournament in each of head coach Wendy Schuller's five years at the helm of the Eagles. Overall, Eastern has participated in seven consecutive tournaments after playing in just three the first 11 years the BSC sponsored women's sports.

Big Sky Conference Poll

The Eagles were selected fifth (tied with Portland State) in the Big Sky Conference's media poll, while EWU placed sixth in the coaches poll. The favorite chosen by the media was defending tournament champion Northern Arizona, while the coaches were not able to differentiate between defending regular-season champ Idaho State and Montana, as the two teams tied for their top spot.

Audio/Video Coverage

All of the 2006-07 women's basketball home games will be audio broadcast free of charge, along with road contests against Idaho, Washington State and Portland State. Announcing the contests are Alyssa Chambers and Brandon Hansen. For more information, access www.teamline.cc.

All games played either at Reese Court or on the road in Big Sky Conference play will be available to view on the Internet at www.bigskytv.org. The cost is $59.95 for a 2006-07 season pass for EWU games (which also includes men's basketball contests and archived football and volleyball games) and $99.95 for all Big Sky teams. Single games can be viewed for $6.95.

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