Another First-Place Team Visits Cheney

Jan. 26, 2009

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The Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team, currently tied for third place in the Big Sky Conference standings, will play the two teams that battled for the 2007-08 league championship in a pair of home games this week.

Montana State pays a visit to Eastern on Thursday (Jan. 29) for a 7:05 p.m. contest, while Montana will take on the Eagles at 2:05 p.m. on Saturday (Jan. 31). Last year, those two Treasure State teams played in the Big Sky championship contest, which saw Montana prevail at home by a 101-65 score.

This year, although Montana State (8-10) may be struggling in seventh place in the league standings with a 2-4 Big Sky mark, the Bobcats are just a game behind third.

The contest on Thursday will be MSU’s second of three straight away from home. The Bobcats had won two straight games before falling on the road in overtime, 88-82, to Northern Colorado.

Eastern will be looking to snap a three-game losing streak it has to the Bobcats, dating to a 69-66 win in Bozeman on Jan. 4, 2007.

Meanwhile, Montana (17-3) is tied for the league’s top spot with a 6-0 Big Sky mark and will face Portland State, also 6-0, on Thursday prior to making its way to Cheney. The Grizzlies will bring a nine-game winning streak into that contest.

Montana is also in the midst of a long period away from home, as Saturday’s game will be the third of four straight away from Missoula. The Grizzlies are in the process of going from Jan. 17-Feb. 12 between home tilts.

In this week’s AP women’s basketball poll, the Grizzlies are listed in the “others receiving votes” section.

Montana has won five straight meetings with the Eagles, with the last EWU win coming in Cheney on Jan. 28, 2006, by a 58-56 score.

“We are going to need to once again be good defensively to be successful this week (EWU has held 7-of-8 opponents to 68 points or fewer), but we also need to score some points (the Eagles have been held to 55 or fewer points in 3-of-4 outings),” head coach Wendy Schuller said.

“We don’t need to score 80 points, but we do need to get our guards more involved offensively and be able to score 65-70 points.”

Eastern (8-11, 3-3 BSC) is coming off of a bittersweet performance, a 65-55 home loss to Portland State. In that game, EWU was down to the first-place Vikings by just four, 57-53, with 2:53 to play.

“We did some things really well against Portland State,” Schuller said. “We knew we were going to have our hands full and be challenged in every aspect, and we were. Our transition defense did a nice job, which is where Portland State scores a lot of their points.

“However, our starting guards did not give us much offense (four points, all from the free throw line). It is hard to swallow that your three perimeter players do not make a basket and you’re that close.”

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

The Eagles lead the Big Sky Conference in least rebounds allowed per game (35.6) and are second in rebounds attained per game (38.6) and rebounding margin (+3.0).

The team also leads all league schools in offensive rebounds per contest (14.68).

Eastern has tallied at least 10 offensive rebounds in each of its last 10 games and in 16-of-19 games played this year.

“One of our goals this year was to be one of the best rebounding teams in our league, and we have really done a nice job of that,” head coach Wendy Schuller said. “Julie (Piper) is probably our most consistent rebounder, but a lot of our rebounding is by committee.”

Win on the Road? No Problem                
On Jan. 10, the Eagles used an 18-3 run in the first half to grab a 26-19 lead two minutes before halftime and cruise from there to a comfortable 82-68 road win over Weber State.

The win snapped a 22-game losing streak the Eagles had against the Wildcats in Ogden, Utah, as well as a nine-game losing streak in all Big Sky away contests.

It was also the largest margin of victory for EWU in any Big Sky Conference road game since the Eagles won at Portland State, 77-46, on Jan. 15, 2005. It was the team’s biggest win on the road in any contest since an 80-60 victory at UC Irvine on Nov. 13, 2006.

Earlier in the season, the Eagles earned an impressive 70-69 overtime victory over UNLV in the semifinals of the Lady Rebel Round-Up on Nov. 28.

That victory 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 prior to that victory over the Rebels came on Feb. 24, 2007, when the team claimed a 66-63 road victory over Sacramento State.

The win 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.

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 Jan. 4, when the team rallied from a 34-31 halftime deficit to defeat Northern Arizona 70-64 in overtime.

One of Best Turnarounds in Country               
The Eagles are in the midst of one of the best turnaround seasons in the NCAA Division I ranks this year with its 8-11 overall record and 3-3 Big Sky Conference record.

The Eagles have doubled their win total from last year’s squad (4-25), one of just nine teams nationally to have already done so. Additionally, EWU has tripled its Big Sky win total from a year ago (1-15).

Eastern is also one of just 12 squads nationally to have already recorded four more wins than the year before.

A complete list may be found on page 6 of the corresponding PDF.

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

Most recently, the team shot at an outstanding 56.3 percent clip (27-of-48) on Jan. 10 in an 82-68 road win over Weber State.

That is the highest shooting percentage for Eastern Washington in any contest since the team shot 57.8 percent (26-of-45) in an 81-56 win over Portland State on Feb. 12, 2005.

Eastern also made 54.5 percent (24-of-44) in a 63-58 win over Pacific on Dec. 13 and 55.6 percent (30-of-54) in an 80-70 defeat of San Francisco on Nov. 21.

“Our shot selection was really good (in those 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.”

The Eagles had not reached the 50.0 percent mark at all last year and have now done so three times in 2008-09.

The Eagles also 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.

Also, the Eagles shot at a very high clip from three-point territory in that win over the Wildcats on Jan. 10, making 58.3 percent of their attempts (7-of-12). The last time that high of a three-point shooting percentage occurred on Jan. 10, 2007, in a 76-69 loss to Idaho State (also 7-of-12).

Resilient Ryan Turns it on in BSC Play           
Freshman Brianne Ryan has not only settled in nicely for the Eagles, but has turned it up several notches since the commencement of Big Sky Conference play.

In the league statistical rankings for conference games only, she far and away leads all Big Sky players in three-point shooting percentage (72.7). She is 15th in minutes per game (31.83), as well.

Ryan is also shooting at an outstanding 61.5 percent clip from the floor (16-of-26) during Big Sky play.

In road games with Idaho State on Jan. 8 and Weber State on Jan. 10, respectively, she shot at a sizzling 75.0 percent clip (9-of-12) and 100.0 percent from beyond the three-point arc (4-of-4).

She also led the team in scoring (12.5 points per game) and rebounds per game (7.0) that week.

“Brianne has gotten better and better as the year has gone on,” head coach Wendy Schuller said. “She is such a good defensive player, and she is starting to show the offensive part of her game. She has done a nice job in terms of shot selection, as well.”

Jess Among Best in Big Sky, Nation       
Mid-way through her junior season, point guard Jessica Huntington has moved into the top-10 list for most career assists in Eastern Washington history, as her total of 278 places her eighth.

With 9:29 remaining in the first half of an 82-68 road win over Weber State on Jan. 10, she recorded her 265th career helper on a pass to Tatjana Sparavalo for a lay-up to move into sole possession of that eighth spot. Jean Ness had previously held that placing with 264 tallied from 1978-79 through 1980-81.

Huntington is also one of the nation’s best in assist-turnover ratio, as her average of 1.79 (70-39) is 35th-best among all NCAA Division I players.

In the Big Sky Conference statistical rankings, she is second in assist-turnover ratio (just trailing Montana’s Mandy Morales’ 1.86).

She is also seventh in the conference in assists per game (3.68).

Huntington is tied for the league lead in assist-turnover ratio during Big Sky games only at 2.50 (sharing that spot with Portland State’s Claire Faucher).

Powerful Piper Shows Clutch Form  
Julie Piper had an outstanding weekend of play to start 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 on Jan. 2 and 4, respectively.

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 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, Piper 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.

Against the Hornets in a 69-64 win two days later, she contributed 21 points, the highest-scoring game any Eagle has posted so far in 2008-09.

“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.”

Piper has played at a high level throughout the season, ranking in several Big Sky Conference statistical categories, placing fifth in rebounding (7.4 per game), 10th in free throw shooting (74.7 percent), 11th in blocks (0.68 per game) and 16th in scoring (11.2 ppg).

Perhaps most impressively, Piper is the Big Sky leader in offensive rebounds per game with 3.68.

Piper has also tallied at least eight points in 15 of Eastern’s 19 games played so far this year. The sophomore has led the team in rebounding in 13 contests, including in eight of Eastern’s last nine outings.

Her best scoring performance, and the best by any Eagle in 2008-09, came on Saturday (Jan. 24) in Eastern’s battle with first-place Portland State.

In that contest, she scored 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, Eastern’s best individual point total attained since Tatjana Sparavalo had 24 at Idaho State on Feb. 16, 2008.

Piper also had 11 rebounds in the contest. Both of those figures were game highs.

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 also had an outstanding game on Jan. 10 in an 82-68 win over Weber State, tallying 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field and 8-of-8 shooting from the free throw line. That point total ties for the second-best by an Eagle in 2008-09.

Scott has now made 23 straight free throws and is shooting at an 88.9 percent clip from the charity stripe this year (24-of-27). Her perfect 14-of-14 free throw shooting in league contests leads the conference.

She has been an intimidating force inside this year, as well, as her blocks per game average of 0.79 ties her for eighth in the Big Sky.

She is also sixth in shooting percentage (45.9), 15th in rebounds per game (5.7) and 24th in points per game (9.6).

Kyla Nails Shots from Everywhere           
Sophomore guard Kyla Evans has shot lights out so far in 2008-09, as she ranks among the top 100 NCAA Division I players in both three-point baskets made per game (75th, 2.2) and three-point shooting percentage (93rd, 36.2).

She is also second in the Big Sky Conference in three-pointers per game and 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.”

Evans is also 12th in the league in overall shooting percentage (42.8), 13th in minutes per game (31.74) and 18th in points per game (10.7).

Her career three-point makes of 94 have already placed her fifth in Eagle history in that category. This feat is especially impressive when you consider she is in her sophomore season and 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 that game, tied for the third-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 (5-of-9 overall) versus Utah State on Dec. 6.

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, breaking the school record 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.

In 2008-09, the Eagles are hitting at a 70.4 percent clip (235-of-334). In Big Sky play, the team has made 72.6 percent of its charity tosses (90-of-124).

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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