Eastern Opens Long and Hard Road Stretch

Jan. 1, 2007

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Five weeks from now, Reese Court will look better than ever to the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team. The 6,557 miles the Eagles will log in the meantime don't look so good.

Currently an even 1-1 in the Big Sky Conference and 7-7 overall, the Eagles play eight of their next 10 games on the road, starting with the longest road trip of the year this week. The Eagles will play Thursday (Jan. 4) in Greeley, Colo., against Northern Colorado before traveling to Flagstaff, Ariz., to play league favorite Northern Arizona on Saturday (Jan. 6).

The UNC game starts at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time and is being televised live in Spokane on KSKN Channel 22 and produced by Altitude Sports. Saturday's tilt begins at 5:35 p.m. Pacific time.

As the crow flies, Eastern will log 2,804 miles on this trip alone. The following week, Eastern will travel 1,24\53 miles to play at Idaho State and Portland State. After hosting Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado on Jan. 18 and 20, respectively, Eastern returns to the road for two more road trips. A 1,830-mile trip to Sacramento State and Weber State is followed by a 670-mile trip to play Montana State and Montana.

Eastern's final four conference games are at home at Reese Court in February, sandwiched around a non-conference road game as part of the ESPN Bracket Buster weekend.

"With eight of the next 10 games on the road, the schedule definitely threw us a curveball," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "But the positive thing is that our last four are at home. We will learn a lot about playing on the road. We are already familiar with playing on the road -- we just need to learn to play better away from home."

After dropping its league opener 82-79 at home on Dec. 28 to Montana State, the Eagles fell behind by 13 in the first half against Montana on Dec. 30. But the Eagles rallied from that deficit -- and a seven-point margin in the second half -- to beat the Grizzlies 74-71.

A 0-2 start at home could have proved to be disastrous heading into the difficult road stretch.

"I think it gives us a little momentum heading into our next stretch of road games," said Burns. "Practice will be a lot more cheerful than it would have been considering the alternative. It's conference time and we needed to get going the way we did against Montana."

Eastern is just 1-6 away from home this season, with the lone victory an 87-66 romp at Portland on Dec. 9. Among Eastern's road losses are setbacks to Gonzaga, UNLV, Washington, Santa Clara and Oregon -- all with at least nine wins each this season. Three of those teams are or have been nationally ranked.

Last year the Eagles were 6-1 at home in the Big Sky and were 3-4 on the road to finish third in the league at 9-5.

"The glaring difference between playing at home and playing on the road for us this season is the level of competition we have faced," explained Burns. "The caliber of teams we've played on the road is part of the problem we have faced in trying to win road games. For us to do well on the road we have to play hard for all 40 minutes and score about 10 more points on the road than we would score at home."

Northern Colorado enters Thursday's game with a 2-12 record and four-game losing streak. The Bears opened Big Sky play with a pair of narrow home losses to Weber State (61-60) and Sacramento State (74-70).

Northern Arizona, picked by the conference's head coaches to defend its regular season league title, is 6-7 thus far. The Lumberjacks beat Sacramento State soundly 96-82 before losing a home game to Weber State 81-73. The Wildcats are alone at the top of the league at 2-0. Northern Colorado is 0-2 and Idaho State is 0-0 -- all other Big Sky squads are 1-1.

 

About Northern Colorado: Northern Colorado enters Thursday's game with a 2-12 record and four-game losing streak. The last victory for the Bears was a 74-59 victory at Denver on Dec. 10. Northern Colorado is 0-8 on the road and 2-4 at home thus far. Six of UNC's losses have come by two points or fewer, including both league games last week. Three others have been decided by nine or 10 points. The Eagles and the Bears have not had a common opponent this season.

Guard Sean Taibi leads UNC in scoring with a 15.4 average per game, and is also contributes 1.9 assists and 4.0 rebounds. Kirk Archibeque, a 6-foot-9 center, adds 13.3 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Burns on Northern Colorado: "Northern Colorado is a lot like Montana State in that they haven't had success early, but they have played everyone they have played tough. One thing about Montana State is that a lot of people didn't think they were a very good basketball team when they came in here, but they are a good basketball team. Northern Colorado is also a great basketball team and we will need to play very well to get a win there."

 

About Northern Arizona: Like Eastern, the Lumberjacks suffered their first home loss of the season last weekend when they fell to Weber State. The Lumberjacks are 6-7 overall, including a 5-1 record at home and a 1-6 record away from home. The lone common opponent for the Eagles and Lumberjacks was UNLV -- Eastern lost at UNLV 82-79 on Nov. 14 and NAU was pounded 93-53 there on Dec. 2.

The Lumberjacks have lots of scoring threats, led by 6-foot-7 forward Ruben Boykin Jr. He is averaging 15.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Guard Tyrone Bazy is averaging 13.3 points, Stephen Sir averages 10.8 on 41-of-98 shooting (42 percent) from three-point range and 6-9 Kyle Landry averages 9.3 points and 6.3 rebounds on 62 percent shooting. Josh Wilson averages 8.6 points and 5.9 assists and 6-10 Ryan McCurdy chips in 7.3 points and 4.4 rebounds. Nathan Geiser, the team's seventh-leading scorer with a 5.8 average, scored 27 points in the win over Sacramento State -- which is more than one-third of his total of 70 points for the season.

Burns on Northern Arizona: "There is never a good time to play in Flagstaff -- NAU is a great team that is well coached. You play at 7,000 feet and are already fatigued from the road trip. But that is what they have scheduled for us so we will get after it."

 

Eastern's Frequent Flyer Miles: Eastern will log 6,557 miles during a five week stretch of games from Jan. 4 to Feb. 3 when the Eagles play eight of 10 games on the road.

As the crow flies (and not even including connecting plane flights), here is the breakdown of dates traveling and miles logged during Eastern's eight road trips.

Jan. 3 - Cheney-Spokane-Denver-Greeley: 890 miles

Jan. 5 - Greeley-Denver-Phoenix-Flagstaff: 760 miles

Jan. 7 - Flagstaff-Phoenix-Spokane-Cheney: 1,154 miles (total of 2,804 on road trip)

Jan. 10 - Cheney-Spokane-Pocatello: 665 miles

Jan. 12 - Pocatello-Portland: 538 miles

Jan. 14 - Portland-Spokane-Cheney: 291 miles (total of 1,253 on road trip)

Jan. 24 - Cheney-Spokane-Sacramento: 655 miles

Jan. 26 - Sacramento-Salt Lake City-Ogden: 562 miles

Jan. 28 - Ogden-Salt Lake City-Spokane-Cheney: 593 miles (total of 1,830 on road trip)

Jan. 31 - Cheney-Bozeman: 334 miles

Feb. 2 - Bozeman-Missoula: 163 miles

Feb. 3 (after EWU-UM game) - Missoula-Cheney: 173 miles (total of 670 on road trip)

 

Team GPA From Fall Quarter an Impressive 3.34: Eastern's six victories in the preseason was nice, but a 3.34 team grade point average from fall quarter was an even better Christmas gift for the Eagle men's basketball program.

Of the team's 13 players, all but two had a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Seven -- more than half the team -- had a GPA of 3.46 or better. Rodney Stuckey, an academic non-qualifier out of high school but an ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII selection a year ago, had a 3.46 GPA to give him a 3.34 GPA overall. Freshman Michael Taylor led the way with a 3.84 GPA in his first quarter as a college student.

Burns on Team GPA: "To have that high of a GPA as a team is phenomenal. I don't know where that would put us in Division I basketball, but I'm sure it would be one of the highest in the country. I think it just speaks to the quality of person we have in the program. We ask them to work hard on the court and in the classroom and they are doing both of those things."

 

Preseason Schedule Tougher Than Expected: Eastern's difficult preseason schedule included losses to two teams ranked when EWU played them (Oregon, Washington) and one other that wasn't ranked but then spent several weeks in the top 25 (Gonzaga). Another loss came to a UNLV squad that knocked off nationally-ranked and previously unbeaten Nevada. Those four teams are a collective 44-8 in their non-conference schedules thus far (UO 12-0, UW 10-1, GU 9-5, UNLV 13-2). Eastern's other losses were to Santa Clara (10-5 in non-conference play) and Cal State Northridge (6-6). Gonzaga and Washington, as well as Big Sky rival Montana, advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season where all three teams picked up first-round victories.

Eastern will be trying to advance to its 10th-straight Big Sky Conference Tournament, which begins March 3. The current streak for the Eagles started in 1998 after Eastern made just one trip to the tourney in their first 10 seasons as a member of the conference.

Eastern is coming off a season that saw it win seven more games than the 2004-05 EWU squad. Eastern finished 15-15 overall and 9-5 in the Big Sky Conference. The Eagles advanced to the Big Sky Conference Tournament semifinals, but lost to eventual champion Montana in overtime. The Grizzlies went on to win a game in the NCAA Tournament.

Burns on Preseason Schedule: "When we put the schedule together, we knew it would be difficult. We just didn't anticipate it being as difficult as it was. It's been a difficult schedule and I think we've won the games we were supposed to win. If we have any regrets with where we are right now, it's the fact there were a couple of games on the road we had a chance to win but didn't take advantage of the opportunity. Not winning them was tough. But that's why we play this schedule -- to toughen ourselves and prepare ourselves for conference play. I think we've done that and ended on a positive note against Idaho."

 

Pre-Season Losses Lead to Big Sky Conference Wins: In the last eight seasons (including this season), Eastern has had a 40-59 (.404) pre-conference record. Those difficult schedules have yielded a 68-36 (.654) Big Sky Conference record in that span -- tops in the league. Eastern has finished third or better in the Big Sky regular season standings in six of the last seven years en route to a pair of regular season Big Sky titles, one Big Sky Tournament title and three-runner-up tourney finishes.

In the last two seasons under head coach Mike Burns, Eastern has been 11-14 in the preseason -- including a 6-6 record in 2006-07 and 5-8 in 2005-06. In the previous four seasons under Ray Giacoletti, the Eagles were 4-9 in 2003-04, 8-6 in the 2002-03 season, 6-8 in 2001-02 and 5-5 in his first year at the helm in pre-conference play. His worst pre-conference record was in 2003-04, yet resulted in an 11-3 league mark, Big Sky regular season and tourney titles and the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. In the 1999-2000 season -- EWU's final season under former head coach Steve Aggers -- the Eagles were just 3-7 before sharing the Big Sky Conference regular season title with Montana as they both finished 12-4 in conference play.

 

Eagles Picked to Finish Third: Just one point separated first and second place in the 2006-07 Big Sky Conference Men's Basketball preseason media and coaches' poll. In the coaches' poll, Northern Arizona is first and in the media poll, Montana is first. Eastern was third in both as it finished just five points out of first in voting by the coaches and just 11 points from first in the media poll.

Eastern received one first-place vote in the coaches' poll and 54 total points. Seven media members voted the Eagles first, and EWU earned 222 points in that poll.

Coaches' Poll
School (First-place votes) Points

1. Northern Arizona (4) 59
2. Montana (4) 58
3. Eastern Washington (1) 54
4. Portland State 41
5. Sacramento State 37
6. Weber State 27
7. Idaho State 22
8. Montana State 17
9. Northern Colorado 8

Media Poll
School (First-place votes) Points

1. Montana (9) 233
2. Northern Arizona (13) 232
3. Eastern Washington (7) 222
4. Portland State 149
5. Sacramento State 143
6. Montana State 109
7. Weber State 95
8. Idaho State 93
9. Northern Colorado 30

 

Narrow Defeats: Four of Eastern's losses thus far have been nail-biters, including a 102-98 loss at Cal State Northridge on Dec. 3 in which the Eagles held a three-point lead with 3:32 remaining. Eastern lost to then-16th ranked Washington 83-70 in a game that featured 13 ties and 16 lead changes before the Huskies pulled away. Eastern also narrowly lost at UNLV 82-79 after rallying from a 15-point deficit with 7 1/2 minutes to play. The Eagles opened Big Sky Conference play on Dec. 28 with an 82-79 loss to Montana State in which Bobcat Carlos Taylor made a 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer for the win.

 

Thus Far, Eagles Have Best Offense in 35 Years: It's been 35 years since the Eastern Washington men's basketball team has scored points like this.

The Eagles have averaged 85.2 points per game this season for an early pace that, at least for now, is just behind the school record of 90.0 set by the 1971-72 team. The 1970-71 squad averaged 86.3 and in 1975-76 Eastern averaged 85.2. The last time Eastern scored or allowed points in the 80's came in 1990-91 when the Eagles averaged 80.9 and allowed 82.0.

With a pair of 100-point efforts already to its credit this season, Eastern's 574 points scored in six games from Nov. 21 to Dec. 9 (95.7 average) was the highest-scoring stretch since the 1975-76 season when Eastern had 118, 115, 84, 95, 95 and 71 in consecutive games (578 total). That squad scored at least 100 points five times while the 1971-72 squad did it seven times and the 1970-71 team had a school-record nine 100-point efforts. Interestingly, the 1970-71 team also allowed nine 100-point games and allowed an average of 80.3 points per game.

Eastern registered a 110-100 shootout victory at home on Nov. 27 over Cal State Fullerton. Eastern's 110 points were the 13th-most in school history and the third-most versus a NCAA Division I opponent. The only other times Eastern scored more versus a D-I opponent were both against U.S. International (118-83 on Feb. 2, 1991 and 116-82 on Feb. 8, 1986). The combined 210 points made it the fifth-highest scoring game in school history. The record is 225 in a 118-107 loss to Carroll College on Dec. 8, 1967.

During the high-scoring six-game stretch, Eastern also scored 106 points against The Evergreen State on Nov. 21, 83 at Washington on Nov. 24 and 90 versus Eastern Oregon at home on Nov. 27. Eastern came two points from the century mark in a 102-98 loss at Cal State Northridge on Dec. 3, then closed the stretch with 87 in a 21-point victory over Portland on Dec. 9.

Defensively thus far this season, Eastern is allowing 81.9 points per game and already has given up three 100-point performances. The school record for points allowed came in the 1967-68 when opponents averaged 87.7 points. The 373 points allowed in a four-game stretch from Nov. 24 to Dec. 3 were the most against the Eagles in a four-game stretch since allowing 91, 97, 108 and 81 during the 1990-91 season (377 total).

 

Eagles in Big Sky Statistics: Through games played Dec. 30 in the Big Sky Conference, the Eagles lead the league in scoring (85.2), scoring margin (+3.4) and field goal shooting (.489) and are last in scoring defense (81.9).

Individually, Rodney Stuckey leads in scoring (23.1), free throw percentage (.861, 87-of-101), and steals (2.7), and is third in assists (4.9). Paul Butorac is 16th in scoring (12.3), second in rebounding overall (7.9), first in defensive rebounds (5.7), fourth in field goal shooting (.594) and third in blocked shots (1.2). Omar Krayem is 18th in scoring (11.2), ninth in assists (3.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (.417, 25-of-60).

Three Eagles rank in the top six in field goal shooting (Butorac, Derek Risper seventh/.565, Kellen Williams (eighth/.552) as Eastern ranks first in the league as a team (.489). Williams has come on strong lately to move into 26th in the league in scoring (9.5) and 13th in rebounding (5.6). Risper, who made just 10-of-30 free throws as a junior last season, is 10th in the league in free throw percentage thus far (.707, 29-of-41).

 

Stuckey 15th Eastern Player To Go Over Career 1,000-Point Mark: It took sophomore Rodney Stuckey just 43 career games to join 14 others as the only Eastern players in school history to score 1,000 points in a career. He hit that milestone on Dec. 28 against Montana State when he finished with 26 points. With a current total of 1,050 points, he ranks 14th in school history. His career scoring average of 23.9 points in 44 career games is well ahead of the school record of 18.3 set by David Peed from 1988-90. Stuckey already has five of the top 20 scoring games in school history. Ten times in his career he has topped 30 points, including four times this season. And he has been Eastern's leading scorer all but six of 44 career games.

The preseason All-American is averaging 23.1 points per game this season, but that is down from his average of 26.7 through games of Dec. 10 when he ranked third in NCAA Division I. Against Santa Clara on Dec. 11, he picked up two quick fouls and was scoreless in the first half in just eight minutes of action. He had 12 points in the second half, but that game snapped a 36-game streak that lasted more than a year in which he was EWU's leading scorer. It was also the fewest points Stuckey had scored in his then 40-game EWU career as he played just 25 minutes. He followed that by scoring only two points against Oregon when he suffered back spasms and played just the first four minutes of the game. He had scored in double figures in his first 40 appearances in an Eagle uniform until the Oregon game.

Prior to those two games, he was honored for the fifth and sixth time in his career as Big Sky Conference Player of the Week in back-to-back weeks in November and December. The first honor came after he averaged 28.0 points per game while helping the Eagles to a pair of victories and a near-miss of nationally-ranked Washington. He also averaged 5.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. His second honor came after he scored 62 points in a split of games that included 30-point efforts in each. He also had seven assists in each game, and added 10 steals and 11 rebounds in the two games combined in which he played 70 total minutes and had just four turnovers.

Without even stepping a foot on the basketball floor for the 2006-07 season, Stuckey attracted national acclaim and attention. Most recently, Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS recognized him as one of the best NCAA Division I players "under the radar." Last year Stuckey was the Freshman of the Year in NCAA Division I by Collegeinsider.com and won Big Sky Conference Player of the Year accolades.

Stuckey was one of 50 players selected as a preseason candidate for the men's 2006-07 Wooden Award All-American Team as selected by the National Preseason Selection Committee for the John R. Wooden Award. The list is composed of 50 student athletes who, based on last year's individual performance and team records, are the early frontrunners for college basketball's most coveted trophy.

He was also selected by Collegeinsider.com as one of 16 players nationally on its preseason All-America team. Another impressive accolade came from Lindy's Magazine, which ranked him as the third-best shooting guard in all of NCAA Division I. Gary Parrish from CBS Sportsline selected Stuckey as the sixth-best shooting guard in the nation. The Sporting News ranked him as the 16th-best point guard nationally.

Stuckey was named a first team selection on the collegehoops.net All-Underrated Team in September and CHN also ranked him as the 34th-best player in the nation (eighth among sophomores).

He was also recognized by Frank Burlison on Fox Sports.com as a sophomore to watch. Burlison quoted Southern California head coach Tim Floyd - a former head coach at Idaho and the Chicago Bulls - as saying Stuckey was "the best NBA prospect we played against last season." Stuckey scored 15 points and had five rebounds in EWU's 69-51 loss to the Trojans at the Great Alaska Shootout on Nov. 30, 2005. That, incidentally, was the last time he didn't lead the Eagles in scoring during a year-long streak that lasted 36-straight games until finishing with just 12 against Santa Clara on Dec. 11, 2006.

In addition, Stuckey has or will be featured in various collegiate publications and web sites, including Slam Magazine, Basketball Times and numerous daily newspapers.

Playing for a team with just one senior, Stuckey burst onto the scene last year with one of the best seasons by a freshman in NCAA Division I history. His record-breaking season was unmatched in the history of Eastern Washington and by any freshman in the 43-year history of the Big Sky Conference.

The 6-foot-4 guard from Kent, Wash., set seven school records, including a 24.2 scoring average per game that is a Big Sky record for a freshman and the seventh-best overall in the history of the league. His average ranked eighth in NCAA Division I. His 726 total points is fifth-best in league history, the most in the conference in nearly 30 years (since 1978-79) and the most-ever by a freshman in the BSC.

Stuckey became just the 36th player in NCAA Division I to lead his conference in scoring as a freshman. He won league MVP and Freshman of the Year honors, and in the process, became the first player in Big Sky history and the 12th in Division I history to earn league MVP honors as a freshman.

Below is a list of 30-point games by Stuckey along with his ranking in school history.

1. - 45 - Northern Arizona (1-5-06)

4. - 38 - Portland State (3-4-06)

7. - 36 - Montana (1-28-06)

14. - 34 - Boise State (12-29-05)

20. - 33 - Lewis-Clark State (11-18-06)

24. - 32 - Cal State Northridge (12-3-06)

29. - 31 - Washington (11-24-06)

29. - 31 - Portland State (1-14-06)

34. - 30 - Eastern Oregon (11-29-06)

34. - 30 - UC Riverside (12-10-05)

 

Butorac Breaks Career Blocked Shots Record, Probably Dunks Record as Well: Eastern senior center Paul Butorac has been piling up blocked shots and dunks at a record pace.

Now with 85 blocked shots in his career, Butorac broke the school record of 79 held by Chris White (1998-00). He set the record against Washington on Nov. 27 when he had three blocks. Although no records exist for dunks, Butorac also has 79 career dunks, including 19 already this season. He had five at Cal State Northridge on Dec. 3.

A career 56.9 percent shooter, 82 of Butorac's 267 career field goals made have been dunks. He is the lone returning player from Eastern's 2003-04 team that won the Big Sky Conference regular season and tournament titles and advanced to the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament.

Butorac had a career day with 20 points, 22 rebounds and five blocked shots as Eastern Washington surged past Lewis-Clark State 85-70 on Nov. 18. A 6-foot-10 product of nearby Medical Lake, Wash., Butorac's rebounds and blocked shots against L-C State were both the second-most in school history. Butorac's rebounding performance was Eastern's best in nearly 35 years since Dave Hayden had a school-record 28 against Oregon Tech on Jan. 15, 1972. He equaled his career high for blocks as he came one from the school record of six set by Dexter Griffen against Idaho State on Jan. 2, 1987.

He also had a near triple-double at Washington on Nov. 24 -- 14 points, nine rebounds and 10 stitches after taking an elbow to the mouth. He played only 24 minutes after missing the last 4 1/2 minutes of the first half and the opening 4 1/2 minutes of the second half. He took an elbow from Washington 7-footer Spencer Hawes and Butorac's mouth needed seven stitches on the outside of his face and three on the inside of his mouth after his teeth severed his skin.

Butorac's average of 1.76 blocked shots per game as a junior was third in the Big Sky Conference, and his season total of 51 ranked 20th in Big Sky history. He shattered the previous single season school record of 37 set by Matt Peppers in 1981. He had five blocked shots versus UC Riverside as a junior to rank second in school history.

 

Williams Hot: Junior Kellen Williams has been on a hot streak as of late, averaging 13.6 points and 7.6 rebounds in his last five games while making 56.3 percent of his shots from the floor. He has scored in double figures in four of those games, including a career-high 24 versus Idaho on Dec. 21. In his first seven games of the season, Williams was averaging 6.6 points and 4.1 rebounds.

 

SERIES HISTORY

EWU-Northern Colorado Series History: Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, Eastern has never played Northern Colorado. The only meeting between the two teams came on Dec. 20, 1971, when Eastern beat the Bears 76-68 in Greeley, Colo.

 

EWU-NAU Series History (Since 1983-84): Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 20-25 versus Northern Arizona, including a 6-15 record in Flagstaff, Ariz., 13-9 in Cheney and 1-1 on neutral courts.

Eastern had won six-straight games against the Lumberjacks and nine of the last 11 until falling 77-64 in Flagstaff on Feb. 5, 2005. The Lumberjacks beat EWU 105-95 last Jan. 5 in a game in which Eastern's Rodney Stuckey scored a school-record 45 points. Eastern defeated the Lumberjacks 73-61 in Cheney on Feb. 4.

Before Eastern's 74-65 victory over NAU in the 1999-2000 season in Cheney, the Eagles had lost their last eight meetings against the Lumberjacks. Eastern trails in the all-time series 20-26 (6-15 in Flagstaff, 13-10 in Cheney, 1-1 neutral), having won six consecutive games from January of 1989 to February of 1991.

Until a 72-65 victory in Flagstaff in the 2000-2001 season, Eastern had lost nine-straight meetings there since Feb. 16, 1991, when a 95-79 victory gave the Eagles a three-game winning streak in Flagstaff. Coupled with a win later in the 2000-2001 season, Eastern swept the regular season meetings with the Lumberjacks for the first time in 10 years. Eastern duplicated that feat in 2003 and 2004.

 

MORE SEASON NOTES

Hinton Misses Four Games: Besides Rodney Stuckey's ailing back, guard Marcus Hinton missed four games in December with a foot injury. He averaged 6.6 points in EWU's first eight games, missed four games, then returned to score one point in eight minutes of action against Montana State and Montana to begin league play.

Both he and Stuckey were able to get plenty of time to heal as EWU went five days without a game before taking on Idaho on Dec. 21. That was only the second gameless stretch of more than four days for EWU since the season began on Nov. 10. The Eagles had another six days off after the Idaho game.

 

Three Different Eagles Led Eastern in Scoring In Three Games After Stuckey's Streak Ends:

Up until the Santa Clara game on Dec. 11, sophomore Rodney Stuckey had led Eastern in scoring in 36-straight games, a year-long streak that started against Idaho on Nov. 30, 2005, and ended on Dec. 11, 2006.

Back spasms kept his point production down and limited his playing time in a three-game stretch in which three other Eagles led EWU in scoring. Kellen Williams had a career-high 24 points to lead the Eagles in an 85-56 win over Idaho on Dec. 21. Paul Butorac led the way with 16 points against Oregon on Dec. 15 and Omar Krayem led EWU with 19 points at Santa Clara on Dec. 11. Stuckey returned as Eastern's leading scorer to end the year when he scored 26 versus Montana State on Dec. 28 and had 28 against Montana two days later.

 

Early Start and Odd Schedule Result of Additional League Member: The early start to the league season and the lack of home games early is mostly contributed to the addition of Northern Colorado to the league this year. Now with nine teams, the league schedule is much more difficult to construct than it was with eight schools and natural travel partners. Now, league coaches are forced to play the hand they're dealt and tolerate the inconvenience.

Regardless, the formula for winning the league title is simple and the same as always.

"The old formula is to win your home games and win half your road games," said Burns. "I think the team that is able to do that in the Big Sky will be the regular season champion -- that's what it's going to come down to. The league is going to be extremely competitive, so you need to protect your home floor and find a way to sneak away with four or five wins on the road. It's easy to say, but it will be an entirely different situation to try to accomplish that."

Seven of the nine teams in the league won at least five games entering conference play, led by 9-4 Portland State. Northern Arizona, the preseason pick to win the league title in the coaches poll and second in the media poll, entered league play with a 5-6 record. Montana was picked first by the media and second by the coaches. Eastern was picked next and Portland State was picked fourth.

"If anything, it's even more competitive than we thought," admitted Burns. "There are seven or eight teams heading into league play that have to feel like they have a legitimate chance to contend. I think we are one of those teams."

 

Turnovers Were Problem in Non-Conference Losses: Turnovers were a bugaboo for the Eagles -- both from the careless variety and as the result of the fast-paced style of play they are trying to utilize -- during non-conference play. In its six non-league losses, Eastern averaged 19.2 turnovers (115 total), and opponents turned those into an average of 22.7 points per game (136 total).

In Eastern's first three games, Eastern had 62 turnovers with opponents scoring 69 points off those miscues. Eastern, meanwhile, forced 45 turnovers in those three games and did a good job of turning them into points as EWU scored 51 points off turnovers.

Cal State Northridge converted 20 Eastern turnovers into 31 points in an Eagle loss on Dec. 3. Prior to that, Washington scored 24 on 16 EWU miscues. Another low point came against UNLV when Eastern had 14 first-half turnovers and eight in the second half as the Eagles allowed UNLV to score 25 total points off turnovers. Gonzaga scored 22 points off 20 EWU turnovers and Oregon scored 22 off 19 Eagle miscues.

 

Offensive Rebounds Were Also Reason to Worry: For a three-game stretch in December, when Eastern's opponent missed shots, it was about a 50-50 proposition whether or not the Eagles are going to secure the rebound. In the Portland, Santa Clara and Oregon games combined, Eastern was out-rebounded by 31 (10.3 per game) and allowed opponents to grab 55 offensive rebounds (18.3 per game) compared to just 62 defensive boards for the Eagles. The results were a total of 47 second-chance points (15.7 per game) and a total of 21 extra shots for EWU's opponents in those three games.

Eastern led the rebounding battle by two at halftime at Santa Clara on Dec. 11, but were out-rebounded by 12 in the second half. Santa Clara, which scored 17 second-chance points, had 19 offensive rebounds compared to 22 defensive boards for the Eagles. The result was 17 more field goal attempts in the game for the Broncos and 17 second-chance points.

"Part of rebounding is rotating to the ball," explained Burns after the Santa Clara game. "When the entire team does not do that you are going to give players an open lane to the basketball. In the second half they were catching it on the weak side of the glass and laying it in. We were not where we needed to be."

In an 87-66 romp over Portland, the only negative for Eastern was getting out-rebounded 41-36. Eastern had 24 defensive rebounds compared to 22 offensive rebounds for Portland. The Pilots had 17 second-chance points. Versus Oregon on Dec. 15, Eastern was out-rebounded 42-26 and the Ducks had 13 second-chance points.

 

Eagles Versus Ranked Teams: Eastern is now 1-12 versus nationally-ranked teams -- including three games in the 2004-05 season alone as well as three the year before. Seven of the 13 games have come under current head coach Mike Burns. Five others came under Ray Giacoletti from 2000-2004.

12/15/06 vs. #22 Oregon - L, 74-100

11/24/06 vs. #16 Washington - L, 83-90

12/19/05 vs. #8 Gonzaga - L, 65-75

12/16/05 vs. #11 Washington - L, 74-91

12/28/04 vs. #14 Arizona - L, 45-79

12/21/04 vs. #13 Gonzaga - L, 70-83

12/5/04 vs. #14 Washington - L, 56-89

3/19/04 vs. #3 Oklahoma State - L, 56-75

12/31/03 vs. #16 Gonzaga - L, 49-70

11/21/03 vs. #14 Oklahoma - L, 59-69

11/15/01 vs. #10 St. Joseph's - W, 68-67

11/25/00 vs. #4 Michigan State - L, 61-83

1/21/85 vs. #10 DePaul - L, 50-72

 

Eastern 12-64 Versus the Pacific 10 Conference: With losses to Washington each of the last four seasons and a 1-8 record all-time against the Huskies, Eastern is now 12-64 all-time versus current members of the Pacific 10 Conference. Eastern has a current six-game losing streak versus the Pac 10 after losing at Oregon 100-74 on Dec. 15, 2006.

Eastern's win at Washington in the 2002-03 season snapped a five-game losing streak versus Pacific 10 Conference opponents dating back to Eastern's 83-82 overtime win versus Washington State on Dec. 22, 1997, in Kennewick, Wash. That victory was Eastern's first-ever victory over a Pacific 8 or Pacific 10 Conference opponent since the inception of the conference in 1968. It was also Eastern's first win over Washington State since Dec. 1, 1952, when the Eagles pulled out a 72-71 overtime win in Pullman. The Cougars had led the all-time series 49-10 and had won 17-straight games over the Eagles prior to that EWU victory.

Prior to falling at 16th-ranked Washington 90-83 on Nov. 24, Eastern's last game against a Pacific 10 opponent was a 91-74 loss to 11th-ranked Washington on Dec. 16, 2005. In the 2004-05 season, Washington was ranked 14th in the nation and defeated EWU 89-56. The Huskies also prevailed 104-91 in 2003, but Eastern defeated the Huskies 62-58 in December 2002. Washington won the previous four meetings which all took place between 1990 and 1997.

Other recent meetings against the Pac 10 have yielded losses to Oregon (100-74 on Dec. 15, 2006), Arizona (79-45 on Dec. 28, 2004), California (56-27 on Nov. 16, 2001 and 94-63 on Nov. 25, 1998), Oregon State (58-50 on Dec. 19, 2000 and 78-62 on Dec. 15, 1999) and Washington State (91-72 on Dec. 5, 1998).

 

Former Franklin Teammates Reunite in Eugene: There was an informal reunion Dec. 15 by two of the stars from the 2003 WIAA State 4A Championships won by Seattle's Franklin High School. Eastern's Kellen Williams and Oregon's Aaron Brooks led the Quakers to the title that year as Williams averaged 19.8 points and 13 rebounds during the season before averaging 10.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in four state tournament victories. Brooks averaged 24.3 points and seven assists per game as a high school All-American and State 4A Player of the Year.

Franklin finished 25-2, and beat undefeated Mead 67-55 in the championship game. Williams scored 10 points in the title game to earn second team all-tournament honors. Brooks scored 38 for Franklin, while future Gonzaga star Adam Morrison finished with 38 en route to a tournament-record 127 points.

In the Dec. 15 reunion, Williams finished with eight points and seven rebounds. Brooks was one of five Oregon players in double figures, scoring 16 points with five assists.

 

Eastern Faces Former Eagles: Opponents in back-to-back games in December, Portland and Santa Clara included former Eagles on their rosters. Portland featured EWU free throw percentage record holder Darren Cooper while the point guard for Santa Clara was Danny Pariseau.

Cooper, a 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 14.9 points per game a year ago, had been slowed by off-season knee surgery and a hamstring injury suffered early in the season. He played in UP's first two games but missed the next nine games, including the EWU match-up. He played as a freshman for EWU in 2002 when he set the school's single season free throw percentage record (.899, 71-of-79).

Pariseau played for the Eagles from 2003-05, redshirted at Santa Clara last season and entered the EWU game with starts in eight of nine games with averages of 10.6 points and 3.9 assists per game. He finished the game with five points, nine assists and rive rebounds. Pariseau came to EWU after a stellar career at Shadle Park High School in Spokane, Wash. He started 36 of 89 career games for the Eagles, averaging 5.9 points and 3.2 assists per game.

Cooper was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA and returned for his third year with the Pilots. Cooper, who endured the loss of three family members during his year and a half stint at Eastern Washington, returned to his native Portland to help his mother through breast cancer treatments. Because of his unique situation, the NCAA granted Cooper an extra season.

Although eligible, Cooper was been limited by off-season knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He played six minutes in Portland's opener against Oregon State then played 24 minutes the following night versus Cal Poly. However, he strained his hamstring against the Mustangs and has been sidelined ever since.

West Coast Conference coaches took note of the return of Cooper by naming him one of the league's top six returning players. Cooper averaged 14.9 points per game last season, including 17.0 points during the conference schedule. While at EWU in the 2001-02 season, he averaged 6.5 points and 17.1 minutes in 30 games played, including three as a starter.

 

Six Players Miss Games Because of Suspensions: Because of violation of team rules, Omar Krayem, Brandon Moore and Kellen Williams missed the Lewis-Clark State game. Paul Butorac, Matt Penoncello and Derek Risper --all starters in EWU's first three games -- sat out against Evergreen State.

The end result was Eagle standout Rodney Stuckey playing 39 minutes and Butorac 36 against L-C State. Those two players made the most of those minutes as Stuckey scored 33 points and Butorac finished with 20 points, 22 rebounds and five blocked shots. In a 41-point rout of The Evergreen State, Moore played 34 minutes and finished with 23 points and eight rebounds on 8-of-10 shooting from the field and 7-of-11 from the free throw line. Stuckey scored 26 points in 27 minutes as all eight Eagles that played were in the game for at least 15 minutes each.

 

Eastern Just The Fifth BSC School to Make Nine-Straight Tournament Appearances: Eastern is just the fifth school in league history to make nine-straight appearances in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Eastern started the streak back in 1998 after making just one trip to the tourney in their first 10 seasons as a member of the conference.

Weber State had its string of 24-straight appearances stopped in 2005-06, and Montana had a string of 21-straight from 1978-98. The other streaks were 16 by Idaho (1981-96) and 11 by Nevada (1982-92). Last year, Eastern equaled the streak of eight by Northern Arizona (1997-04).

Interestingly, Montana's 77-69 victory over the Lumberjacks on Feb. 28, 2005, extended Eastern's streak and ended NAU's. Eastern's streak started in 1998 with an end-of-year victory at Montana. That "winner advance, loser eliminated" game ended Montana's 21-year streak.

Eastern is now 7-9 in 10 appearances in the league tournament. Eastern ended its season with losses to Montana in both 2005 and 2006, but the year before won the title with a 71-59 championship game victory over Northern Arizona.

Here is a list of Eastern's appearances in the Big Sky Tournament.

2006 - Semifinal (Flagstaff, Ariz.) - #3 seed vs. #2 seed Montana - L, 71-73 (ot)

2006 - Quarterfinal (Cheney, Wash.) - #3 seed vs. #6 seed Portland State - W, 81-75

2005 - Quarterfinal (Missoula, Mont.) - #6 seed vs. #3 seed Montana - L, 48-58

2004 - Championship (Cheney, Wash.) - #1 seed vs. #2 Northern Ariz. - W, 71-59

2004 - Semifinals (Cheney, Wash.) - #1 seed vs. #5 seed Weber State - W, 72-53

2003 - Championship (Ogden, Utah) - #2 seed vs. #1 seed Weber State - L, 57-60

2003 - Semifinals (Ogden, Utah) - #2 seed vs. #4 Idaho State - W, 76-67

2002 - Championship (Bozeman, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #5 Montana - L, 66-70

2002 - Semifinals (Bozeman, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #3 Weber State - W, 62-57

2001 - Championship (Northridge, Calif.) - #2 seed vs. #1 CS Northridge - L, 58-73

2001 - Semifinals (Northridge, Calif.) - #2 seed vs. #5 Northern Arizona - W, 58-53

2000 - Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #3 Northern Arizona - L, 65-82

1999 - Quarterfinals (Ogden, Utah) - #6 seed vs. #3 Portland State - L, 74-80

1998 - Quarterfinals (Flagstaff, Ariz.) - #3 seed vs. #6 CS Northridge - L, 98-104 (ot)

1990 - Championship (Boise, Idaho) - #2 seed vs. #1 seed Idaho - L, 62-65

1990 - Semifinals (Boise, Idaho) - #2 seed vs. #5 Weber State - W, 83-67

 

Big Crowds: The 10,000 fans that watched Eastern's near-upset of Washington on Nov. 24 in Seattle was the 15th time since the 2000-01 season that Eastern has played in front of crowds in excess of 10,000 fans. A sellout crowd of 10,000 attended the game, while Eastern's games at Washington the previous two seasons had crowds of 9,418 in 2004 and 9,876 in 2005.

In the 2004-05 season, Eastern played in front of a crowd of 14,535 fans at Arizona, 10,216 at Wichita State and 12,000 against Gonzaga. Three of the 10,000+ crowds also came in the 2003-04 season. Several other games have been played in the first game of pre-season tournaments that have drawn at least that many fans, but the Eagles haven't faced the host team.

Unfortunately, Eastern has failed to win all 15 of those games. Here is a list of those crowds:

10,000 - 11/24/06 vs. Washington - L, 83-90

11,879 - 12/19/05 vs. Gonzaga - L, 65-75

14,535 - 12/28/04 vs. Arizona - L, 45-79

12,000 - 12/21/04 vs. Gonzaga - L, 70-83

10,216 - 11/20/04 vs. Wichita State - L, 62-80

16,840 - 3/19/04 vs. Oklahoma State - L, 56-75

12,299 - 12/31/03 vs. Gonzaga - L, 49-70

11,031 - 12/5/03 vs. Iowa - L, 54-70

11,268 - 11/21/03 vs. Oklahoma - L, 59-69

10,210 - 3/12/03 vs. Weber State - L, 57-60

11,000 - 12/22/02 vs. Gonzaga - L, 64-67

16,374 - 11/15/02 vs. Wisconsin - L, 55-81

10,432 - 12/28/01 vs. Indiana - L, 60-87

12,533 - 11/24/01 vs. Minnesota - L, 68-86

14,759 - 11/25/00 vs. Michigan State - L, 61-83

 

2005-06 Season Recap: It was the year of Rodney Stuckey, but it was also a season of vast improvement for a youthful Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.

In fact, the Eagles won seven more games than the 2004-05 EWU squad.

"In talking with our players about this year, the one thing the season has done is create an even greater hunger for success next year," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns at the conclusion of the season. "I think that's a key component to having the sort of success we've come to expect around here."

Playing for a team with just one senior, Stuckey burst onto the scene with one of the best seasons by a freshman in NCAA Division I history. Among his many awards was being honored as Collegeinsider.com Freshman of the Year after a record-breaking season unmatched in the history of Eastern Washington and by any freshman in the 43-year history of the Big Sky Conference.

The 6-foot-4 guard from Kent, Wash., set seven school records, including a 24.2 scoring average per game that is a Big Sky record for a freshman and the seventh-best overall in the history of the league. His average ranked eighth in NCAA Division I. His 726 total points is fifth-best in league history, the most in the conference in nearly 30 years (since 1978-79) and the most-ever by a freshman in the BSC.

Stuckey became just the 36th player in NCAA Division I to lead his conference in scoring as a freshman. He won league MVP and Freshman of the Year honors, and in the process, became the first player in Big Sky history and the 12th in Division I history to earn league MVP honors as a freshman.

His many accolades also included Mid-Major All-America by Collegeinsider.com; selected to the Freshman All-America second team by Rivals.com; National Freshman of the Week accolades by CBSsportsline.com and Rivals.com; Big Sky Conference All-Tournament; and four Big Sky Conference Player of the Week awards. He was also Eastern's first-ever member of the NABC All-District 13 squad, and was honored on the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII squad for accumulating a 3.34 grade point average through five quarters of academic work at EWU.

Whew. Not bad for a player who couldn't even practice or play for the Eagles in the 2004-05 school year because of NCAA academic eligibility requirements.

"The accolades speak for themselves," said Burns. "To have a player from the Big Sky Conference recognized by a major media outlet as the National Freshman of the Year speaks volumes about the impact he made not only regionally but also nationally. He is very deserving of any and all accolades he receives, and I think that sheds light on where our program is heading."

Thanks to Stuckey and his teammates, the Eagles finished 15-15 after a third-place finish in the Big Sky Conference with a 9-5 mark. That was an improvement of three positions and four wins from a year earlier when the Eagles were 8-20 overall and 5-9 in the Big Sky.

After opening the Big Sky Conference Tournament with an 81-75 victory over Portland State, Eastern fell 73-71 in overtime to eventual Big Sky Champion and NCAA Tournament representative Montana in the semifinals. The Grizzlies survived in overtime against EWU after Stuckey missed a short jumper that could have won it for the Eagles.

It was Eastern's sixth trip to the semis in the last seven years, but the Eagles came up short in their bid for a fifth trip to the title game in six seasons. The Eagles won the Big Sky regular season and tourney titles and advanced to their first-ever NCAA Tournament in the 2003-04 season.

Eastern won seven of its last nine games versus Big Sky foes, with the lone losses coming to UM. Montana went on to pound tournament host Northern Arizona 73-60 for the title, then upset fifth-seeded Nevada 87-79 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

"We thought we had a very special group," said Burns. "They were very young and very inexperienced, and they fought through a very difficult schedule in December. We knew that would be a challenge and it was. But to finish the way we did bodes very well for the future. We hosted and won a playoff game, and then took the eventual conference champions to overtime in the semifinals."

Stuckey scored 26 points in the semifinals against the Grizzlies as he finished the year leading EWU in scoring in its final 27 games of the season. One game earlier, he had the second-most points in tournament history with 38 versus the Vikings as the Eagles completed a three-game sweep of PSU. Interestingly, the record - 39 by Mike O'Quinn of Cal State Northridge - came in an overtime victory versus EWU in 1998 in the first game of a current string of nine-straight tourney appearances for the Eagles.

Eastern finished third in the league standings with 9-5 record, with Montana at 10-4 and Northern Arizona 12-2. Behind the Eagles were Montana State (7-7), Sacramento State (5-9), Portland State (5-9), Idaho State (4-10) and Weber State (4-10). Weber State ended its run of 24-straight appearances in the Big Sky Tournament.

Eastern is now 7-9 in 10 appearances in the league tournament, and is just the fifth team in the 31-year history of the tournament to qualify for at least nine-straight tournaments. The EWU streak started back in 1998 after the team made just one trip to the tourney in its first 10 seasons as a member of the conference.

 

Eagles Play Five NCAA Tournament Teams, Two in NIT Last Season: Eastern Washington played five teams in the 2005-06 season that advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Eastern was 0-7 against those squads - Gonzaga, Washington, Marquette, Southern Illinois and Big Sky rival Montana. The Eagles lost to Brigham Young and split with Northern Arizona as those two squads advanced to the NIT.

 

Eagles 11th Nationally in Field Goal Percentage: In 2005-06, Eastern Washington finished 11th among 326 NCAA Division I schools with a .486 shooting percentage that ranked third in the Big Sky. Eastern was also 36th nationally in assists (15.9 per game), 58th in blocked shots (4.3 per game), 61st in scoring (74.1 per game) and 70th in three-point percentage (.368). Eastern's lowest rankings were 309th in field goal percentage defense (.473) and 284th in scoring defense (74.0).

Individually, freshman Rodney Stuckey was eighth in scoring (24.2 per game) and 49th in steals (2.2 per game).

 

Stuckey Wins National Freshman of the Year Honor: Sensational Eastern Washington University men's basketball player Rodney Stuckey was selected by Collegeinsider.com as its 2005-06 National Freshman of the Year. The internet media outlet made the announcement March 6.

The high-scoring 6-foot-4 guard was chosen along with 24 other NCAA Division I players to Collegeinsider.com's Freshman All-America team. After a record-breaking season unprecedented in Big Sky history - and rare in the history of college basketball - Stuckey was chosen as the best.

"Rodney has received many tremendous accolades this year, however, being recognized nationally as the Freshman of the Year is a phenomenal achievement," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "We obviously feel he is deserving of the award. Not only has he been a great player, but he's been a great student and, most importantly, a great teammate."

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