Eagles Head Out on First Big Sky Trip

Jan. 5, 2009

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The Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team takes off for its first Big Sky Conference road trip of the 2008-09 season this weekend, taking on Idaho State at 6:05 p.m. Pacific Time on Thursday (Jan. 8) and Weber State at 1:05 p.m. on Saturday (Jan. 10).

The Eagles are coming off a perfect 3-0 week that saw the team also start the Big Sky campaign 2-0 for the first time since the 2004-05 squad began its league season 4-0. Eastern defeated Eastern Oregon 72-46 on Tuesday (Dec. 30) before earning Big Sky wins over Northern Arizona on Friday (Jan. 2), 70-64 in overtime, and Sacramento State two days later, 69-64.

“We felt it was important to defend our home turf, and those were two games we felt we really needed to win,” head coach Wendy Schuller said. “I was pleased we found a way. Both games were definite battles, and both teams came in ready to play. It’s a nice step forward that, in the last five minutes of a game, we’re learning how to finish games and make big plays down the stretch.

“It was a great weekend for us, but we do understand that there are still 14 conference games ahead of us, and we’re taking them one weekend, one game, at a time.”

The three-game winning streak is the team’s longest since the 2006-07 team started its season 3-0. Also, at 7-8, the Eagles have already exceeded last year’s win total by three, one of only six NCAA Division I teams nationally to have done so.

Idaho State snapped a five-game losing streak on Friday (Jan. 2) in a 60-55 win at Northern Colorado in its Big Sky opener. The Bengals are 4-10 overall. The Eagles will be looking to continue its impressive season by snapping a eight-game losing streak to the Bengals, dating to a 66-52 win on Jan. 20, 2005.

Weber State (5-8) has lost three in a row, including a 66-53 loss at Northern Colorado in its Big Sky lidlifter on Sunday (Jan. 4). Eastern is also looking to end a losing streak to the Wildcats, as the Eagles have come up short in head-to-head contests with WSU on the last five occasions as well as in the last 22 meetings to take place in Ogden, Utah. The latter streak dates to a 71-68 Eagle win on Feb. 13, 1988. 

“One of the biggest things we are going to have to do this weekend is match the intensity of both of these teams,” Schuller said. “They each play really hard and defend really well, so we’re going to have to do a good job taking care of the ball and taking good shots.”

Being Aggressive on the Boards     
       
The Eastern Washington Eagles have shown themselves to be an aggressive team this year, partly evidenced by the team’s impressive rebounding numbers.

Overall, the Eagles rank second in the Big Sky Conference with 39.4 rebounds per game and have also done a good job not allowing their opponents to achieve their own rebounds to also place second in rebounding advantage (+1.7).

Also, the team has shown its prowess on the offensive glass, leading the league in offensive rebounds with 15.00 per game, grabbing an offensive board on 40 percent of its missed shots.

In 12-of-15 games, the team has tallied at least 10 offensive boards (including in nine of the team’s last 10 games).

Halftime Deficit? No Problem
               
Eastern Washington earned its first win of the 2008-09 season on Nov. 21 by an 80-70 score over San Francisco, rallying from behind to do so.

In earning the victory, the Eagles rallied from a 38-33 deficit at the half, marking their first win after trailing at the break since Feb. 24, 2007. In that earlier contest, EWU trailed Sacramento State 29-27 at the half before prevailing by a 66-63 score.

The Eagles then made it twice after the team responded to a 34-33 deficit to Montana Tech on Dec. 2 by outscoring the Orediggers 40-29 after the break in a 73-63 win.

A third occurrence came in Eastern’s first Big Sky Conference game of the season on Friday (Jan. 4), when the team rallied from a 34-31 halftime deficit to defeat Northern Arizona 70-64 in overtime.

Win on the Road? No Problem
                
Eastern Washington earned an impressive 70-69 overtime victory over UNLV on Nov. 28 in the semifinals of the Lady Rebel Round-Up.

The win snapped a 14-game losing streak for Eastern in road contests (16 in games played away from home, including two neutral-site contests last year).

The last win away from home came on Feb. 24, 2007, when the team claimed a 66-63 road victory over Sacramento State.

The victory was Eastern’s first-ever over UNLV in four tries as well as its initial one over a team in the Mountain West Conference since a 53-30 victory versus Wyoming on Jan. 10, 2004.

Nailing Shots All Over the Court     
           
The Eagles have had some impressive shooting performances this year.

On Nov. 21, an 80-70 win over San Francisco, the Eagles made 55.6 percent of their shots (30-of-54). That average is the best by an Eastern squad since the team made 57.8 percent of its attempts (26-of-45) in an 81-56 win over Portland State on Feb. 12, 2005.

Eastern Washington then made 54.5 percent (24-of-44) in a 63-58 win over Pacific on Dec. 13. To compare, the Eagles had not reached the 50.0 percent mark at all last year.

“Our shot selection was really good (in both games),” head coach Wendy Schuller said. “The players took shots that were the best shots for the team and shots they were good at knocking down. That was a really nice step forward for us.”

The Eagles had an amazing shooting half against Georgia on Nov. 29, making 60.0 percent from the floor (12-of-20), an impressive rebound from 30.4 percent shooting in the opening stanza (7-of-23).

The last time Eastern Washington shot that high in a half came on Dec. 21, 2007, when the Eagles made 60.6 percent of their shots (20.33) in a road game versus Pacific.

Powerful Piper Shows Clutch Form                
Julie Piper had an outstanding weekend of play to start of the 2008-09 Big Sky Conference season, as she averaged 18.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game in wins over Northern Arizona and Sacramento State.

In addition to shooting at an impressive 52.0 percent clip (13-of-25), she led the team in steals with five and tied for the team pace in assists with five and blocks with two.

Against the Lumberjacks on Friday (Jan. 2), a 70-64 overtime win, she hit several big shots and grabbed a couple of clutch rebounds.

With 1:37 left in the second half, she grabbed an offensive rebound before scoring 13 seconds later to give Eastern a 58-56 lead. Then, with just 14 seconds left, she hit a jumper to tie the game at 60. Piper also secured a key defensive rebound with three seconds left to send the game to overtime.

In the extra session, she converted a jump shot with 34 seconds left to give Eastern a 66-64 lead on its way to the 70-64 win.

“Piper had a really good weekend, well earned for her,” head coach Wendy Schuller said. “She works so hard day in and day out, and it’s great when everything comes together. She played extremely hard, offensively and defensively.

“Also, our team did a nice job feeding each of our post players and getting them touches inside. Piper worked her tail off, but her teammates did a really nice job getting her the ball.”

Piper has played at a high level throughout the season, ranking in several Big Sky Conference statistical categories: sixth in rebounding (7.1), tied for ninth in free throw shooting (76.5 percent), 10th in blocks (0.67 per game) and 16th in scoring (11.1 points per game).

Perhaps most impressively, Piper is far and away the Big Sky leader in offensive rebounds per game with 3.47 (trailing Montana State’s Nubia Garcia has 2.92).

Piper has also tallied at least eight points in 13 of Eastern’s 15 games played so far this year. The sophomore has led the team in rebounding in 10 games, including in Eastern’s last five outings.

Jess Enters EWU List, Ranks Nationally

Mid-way through her junior season, point guard Jessica Huntington has moved into the top-10 list for career assists in Eastern Washington history, as her total of 263 places her ninth, just one behind the eighth spot (currently held by Jean Ness, 1979-81).

Huntington also now ranks nationally in assist-turnover ratio, as her average of 1.62 (55-to-34) is 63rd-best among all NCAA Division I players.

In the Big Sky Conference statistical rankings, she is tied for third in assist-turnover ratio and is seventh in assists per game (3.67).

Scott Earns Co-Big Sky POW Honors                             
Junior Nicole Scott had a perfect performance on Dec. 13 and rode that 6-of-6 showing (including 2-of-2 on threes) to Big Sky Conference Co-Player of the Week accolades. She became the first Eagle to win the honor since Jamie Chicane earned accolades on Jan. 30, 2006.

Scott’s perfect shooting, which included a couple of threes, came in a 63-58 home win over Pacific. It was also the best shooting percentage by an Eagle (with at least six attempts) since Felice Moore was 6-of-6 at Montana State on March 6, 2004. The Carson City, Nev., native contributed four rebounds and two steals in the win, as well.

The 6-2 forward also helped the team as a whole make 54.5 percent of its shots in that game (24-of-44), the second time this season the Eagles have made more than 50.0 percent from the floor.

Scott shared the week’s honors with Montana’s Mandy Morales.

She has been an intimidating force inside this year, as her blocks per game average of 0.80 ranks her fifth in the Big Sky. She is also 11th in rebounds per game (6.1) and in shooting percentage (43.2) and 23rd in points per game (9.4).

Kyla Nails Shots from Everywhere           
Sophomore guard Kyla Evans has shot lights out so far in 2008-09, as she ranks highly among the top 60 NCAA Division I players in both three-point baskets made per game (41st, 2.5) and three-point shooting percentage (60th, 39.6).

She leads the league in three-pointers per game and is fourth in three-point shooting percentage.

“I have been pleased with Kyla and the way she has shot the three,” head coach Wendy Schuller said. “We’ve also talked to her about hunting for her shot because we know teams are going to be focusing on closing her down.”

In fact, Evans is listed in five different Big Sky statistical categories. She is sixth in overall shooting percentage (45.2), ninth in scoring (11.9 points per game) and 12th in minutes per game (32.27).

Her career three-point makes of 90 have already placed her sixth in Eagle history in that category (three behind fifth). This feat is especially impressive when you consider she is half-way through her sophomore season and had missed 11 games her freshman campaign due to an injury.

Evans shot extremely well in Eastern’s 80-70 defeat of San Francisco on Nov. 21, as she made 8-of-10 shots. The three-point specialist was covered tightly on the outside that night and adjusted her game by taking shots from nearly every spot on the court, only two of them from three-point range.

She finished with 20 points in the game, the second-highest point total posted by any Eagle so far in 2008-09.

“Kyla really improved her mid-range game this summer, spending a lot of time working on pull-up jumpers and those kinds of moves,” Schuller said. “That was what she really had to pull out of her bag against San Francisco because they were not letting her get any open looks. She did a really nice job knocking those shots down.”

Against Southeastern Conference-member Georgia on Nov. 29, she also shot at an impressive clip, making 6-of-8 attempts, 4-of-5 from three-point range.

Evans then made more than 50.0 percent of her three-point shots for the third time in 10 outings this season when she nailed 5-of-8 from beyond the arc versus Utah State on Dec. 6, 5-of-9 overall.

Excellence from the Free Throw Line   
          
A year ago, the Eastern Washington Eagles set a school record with its top-notch free throw shooting. That squad nailed 73.3 percent of its charity tosses. That mark broke the school record which was set the year before (71.2).

The 2007-08 Eagles really turned on its free-throw shooting during Big Sky play, converting 75.4 percent of its attempts during that portion of the schedule.

Eight games into the 2008-09 campaign, the Eagles are hitting at a 70.6 percent clip (180-of-255).

And the Honors Go To ...  
                             
Eastern Washington as a team was once again honored over the summer, being named to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Academic Top 25 Honor Roll.

It marked the seventh consecutive season the Eagles had ranked 10th or higher in the rankings. That span included a No. 1 ranking in 2003-04.

Eagles Picked Ninth   
                
Eastern Washington was picked ninth in the Big Sky Conference preseason coaches and media polls.

The two polls were nearly identical. Both picked Montana to win the title, and the Grizzlies were followed, in order, by Portland State, Montana State, Northern Colorado, Northern Arizona, Weber State/Idaho State (WSU was sixth in the coaches poll and seventh in the media poll, while ISU was seventh and sixth, respectively), Sacramento State and the Eagles.

“Our team is hungry this year,” head coach Wendy Schuller said. “We have a great group of players who really play hard for each other.

“We had a rough year last year and a rough off-season, and those memories have set with a lot of us. We also have new players who are determined not to let those types of things happen.”

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