Dec. 19, 2008
Just a few short hours after a disappointing home loss left the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team 6-4 on the season, the Eagles boarded a bus.
The good news was that they were leaving nearly two feet of snow that fell in the Cheney, Wash., area in a 36-hour period. The bad news is that they were headed to face a potential avalanche in Seattle against a talented University of Washington team from the Pacific 10 Conference. Tip-off Saturday is 7:05 p.m. Pacific time in a game televised live regionally on Fox Sports Net.
Eastern fell to Missouri-Kansas City 68-61 on Thursday (Dec. 18) in the first of three games in a five-day span to end its pre-Christmas schedule. After the Washington game, Eastern returns home to face Evergreen State on Monday (Dec. 22) at 7:05 p.m.
Making the heavy snowfall discouraging for Eastern was the fact the Eagles had just returned from Hawaii where the Eagles lost 75-55 last Saturday (Dec. 13). That game left head coach Kirk Earlywine wondering what happened to the team that had started 6-2, including a victory in its Big Sky Conference opener just a week earlier.
"In my experiences with teams that go to Hawaii, the first game back is always very difficult," Earlywine said at the time. Adding to the difficulty of that road trip was the task of blending recently-cleared players Adris DeLeon and Chris Busch into the lineup after they were ineligible for EWU’s first eight games of the season.
Earlywine’s fears were realized against UMKC as the Eagles missed 14 free throws and allowed a 9-0 run by the Kangaroos in the final two minutes. Eastern held UMKC to 38 percent shooting for the game -- including just 31 percent in the second half. But their own 32 percent shooting and nine turnovers in the second half doomed the Eagles.
"More than anything else, we had a couple of guys whose minds weren’t right," said Earlywine, whose team lost for the first time in five games at Reese Court. "When you have guys on the floor who aren’t on the same page with the coach and the rest of the team, it is pretty difficult to win."
In fact, the team’s performance against Hawaii was so disappointing that it left Earlywine feeling like he did back on Nov. 1 when the Eagles opened the season with a 58-56 exhibition loss to NAIA opponent Carroll College.
"In some ways it looked like we were playing against Carroll all over again in the first game of the year," said Earlywine a few minutes after the Hawaii loss. "We were out-competed and out-rebounded just like in that game. It looked like our first game, and in some ways it was."
Washington, meanwhile, is a Pacific 10 Conference foe off to a 6-3 start as well. Powerful 6-7 forward Jon Brockman is averaging a team-high 16.8 points and 11. 4 rebounds per game, but he had a sprained ankle and did not play in last Sunday’s (Dec. 14) 84-83 loss to preseason Big Sky Conference favorite Portland State. In last year’s 82-68 Husky win over the Eagles, Brockman made 13-of-19 shots from the floor to finish with 26 points and eight rebounds.
Next Monday’s opponent, Evergreen State, is 6-2 on the season heading into home games against Southern Oregon (Dec. 19) and Oregon Tech (Dec. 20).
Eastern’s 6-2 record after the first eight games was its best start since the 2002-03 season when EWU used a four-game winning streak to improve to 7-2. Eastern was unable to duplicate that 7-2 start by losing at Hawaii, but Eastern is still 1-0 in the Big Sky after a 66-51 victory against Montana State on Dec. 6 that represents the earliest Big Sky start in EWU history.
Earlywine is in his second season at the helm after leading the Eagles to an 11-19 record overall and 6-10 Big Sky Conference mark last season. Season tickets, including several packages with selected games, are now on sale. Information is available at http://WWW.GOEAGS.COM.
Eastern Basketball -- http://goeags.cstv.com/sports/m-baskbl/ewas-m-baskbl-body.html
Big Sky Conference Basketball -- http://www.bigskyconf.com/sport.asp?path=mbball&tab=mens
NCAA Basketball -- http://www.ncaa.com/sports/m-baskbl/ncaa-m-baskbl-body.html
ESPN College Scoreboard -- http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/scoreboard
Rodney Stuckey NBA Page -- http://www.nba.com/playerfile/rodney_stuckey/index.html
More Information and Links are Available at: HTTP://WWW.GOEAGS.COM
-- Moore Plays in Third Eagle-Husky Game -- Junior Brandon Moore, who helped Bethel High School win the WIAA State 4A Tournament title in 2005, will be playing in his third Eagle-Husky match-up. In last year’s 82-68 loss, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound center scored five points and had five rebounds in 20 minutes. As a freshman in EWU’s 90-83 loss, he scored two points with a pair of rebounds in 12 minutes. He is from Graham, Wash., and graduated from Bethel in 2005.
Eastern has two other state of Washington products on its roster -- 6-8 Matthew Brunell (Cheney, Wash - Cheney HS ’06) and Abebe Demissie (Seattle, Wash. - Rainier Beach HS ’08). Brunell scored 11 points and had three rebounds against Washington last year, and Demissie is redshirting as a freshman this winter.
In addition, former Husky Grant Leep is in his fourth season as an Eastern assistant coach. He was a four-year letterman for Washington (1999-02) and led the Pac-10 in three-point field goal percentage as a senior when he made a school-record 52.7 percent. He is married to the former Allison Richardson, who was a standout volleyball player for UW.
-- Another EWU/State of Washington Product, Rodney Stuckey, Shining in the NBA -- Former Eagle Rodney Stuckey continues to make a name for himself in the NBA for the Detroit Pistons, and was made the full-time starter at point guard on Dec. 9. He has started Detroit’s last four games (including a current three-game winning streak), and has averaged a double-double in that span -- 15.5 points and 10.0 assists. He has also averaged 1.5 steals and made 62 percent of his field goal attempts (23-of-37) and 77 percent of his free throws (10-of-13) in that span. Detroit’s next game is Dec. 19 against Utah.
Stuckey was an All-American at Eastern -- both athletically and academically -- after averaging 24 points per game in each of his two seasons (2005-06 and 2006-07). He helped EWU win 30 games in two seasons and had a 3.34 grade point average. A 2004 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., Stuckey was a NCAA non-qualifier and had to sit out the 2004-05 season at EWU. More on Stuckey may be found at:
-- Eagles Register First League Win -- Eastern opened Big Sky Conference play on Dec. 6 with a 61-55 victory over Montana State The league opener came less than a month into the 2008-09 campaign, and was the earliest start to the Big Sky schedule in EWU history. Benny Valentine continued to be the catalyst, finishing with 15 points, four assists and three steals in the win over the Bobcats.
With the victory over MSU, the Eagles are in sole possession of first place in the league until the next Big Sky game is played on Dec. 20.
"I will caution our players that we were 1-0 last year in the conference as well and ended up not playing in the conference tournament," said head coach Kirk Earlywine. "So while it’s a good start and it certainly beats the alternative of being 0-1, there is still a long ways to go."
-- Eagles an Early Leader in the Big Sky in Scoring Defense -- Despite allowing 75 and 68 points in losses in their last two outings, the Eagles remain the early Big Sky leader in scoring defense, allowing 67.2 per game. In its six victories, Eastern has allowed only 62.5 per game while holding opponents to 39.9 percent shooting from the field and 29.0 percent from the three-point stripe. In their losses, those figures rise to 74.2, 48.2 and 34.4.
"We are guarding fairly well," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine prior to the 75-55 loss to Hawaii. "If you throw out Minnesota and Illinois, we are holding our opponents to under 40 percent from the field which I’m happy with. I still think we can do a better job guarding the three-point line."
Eastern held Montana State to just 22 second-half points on Dec. 6 as the Bobcats made only 29 percent from the field after intermission. The result was Eastern’s best defensive performance of the season by allowing MSU just 55 total points, eclipsing the 58 Eastern allowed one game earlier against Portland in a 63-58 win. The Pilots scored only nine points in the final 8:21, including a fairly meaningless basket with 16 seconds to play. But in the eight minutes prior to that, the Pilots were just 1-of-7 from the field with four turnovers.
"I know we’re not going to shut anybody out -- I tell our players that all the time," said Earlywine. "But we need to make teams earn their points. For the most part against Portland, we did not give them points -- they had to earn them."
-- More on Eastern’s Hot Start -- Eastern’s 6-2 start to the 2008-09 season was a complete turnaround from last year when the Eagles were 2-6 after eight games and had been out-scored by an average of more than 12 points per game. Eastern didn’t win its sixth game of the season until Dec. 22.
This season, EWU won its sixth game on Dec. 6 against Montana State. Through eight games, the Eagles had a 535-529 scoring advantage despite losing to a pair of Big Ten Conference foes by a combined 37 points. Eastern out-rebounded opponents by one per game, and had averaged just 12.5 turnovers per game.
As a result, Eastern won all four of its games decided by six points or fewer, and its victories came by margins of three, five, five, six, 10 and 12. Last season, Eastern was 3-6 in games decided by five points or less, with all six setbacks coming during conference play.
"The combination of us defending fairly well and limiting our turnovers have been the two things in particular (that have helped win close games)," explained Earlywine after the MSU win. "Our offensive rebounding hasn’t been overwhelming, but we seem to get them at the right time. Those three things have allowed us to win games, but our statistics as a whole makes you wonder how are we winning those. But it’s been timely, clutch plays, and somebody seems to make a basket at the right time. Andy Genao came up with three buckets, including two tough baskets, in the last 2:35 against Montana State. Maybe the stars are aligned right now because we are finding ways to win tough games."
The last time Eastern was 6-2 to start a season came in came in 2002-03 when that squad began the year 3-2 and stretched it to 7-2 with a four-game winning streak. That year the Eagles lost to Weber State 60-57 in the Big Sky Tournament championship game with a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line. Current Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine was an assistant coach that season for the Wildcats, who were 14-0 in the league and 26-6 overall.
-- Valentine Continues To Lead Big Sky in Scoring -- Eastern 5-foot-7 point guard Benny Valentine continues to lead the Big Sky Conference in scoring with an 16.8 average, but his average has plummeted from a high of 20.3 after the Portland game on Dec. 3.
In his last four games, the Texas Tech transfer has averaged only 11.5 points while making just 18-of-57 shots for 32 percent and 6-of-23 three-pointers for 26 percent. He also has more turnovers (17) than assists (15) in those four games. Most recently, he had only two points on 1-of-9 shooting from the field in 17 minutes as a non-starter against Missouri-Kansas City on Dec. 18. He missed all five of his three-point attempts.
In a 75-55 loss at Hawaii, he had his first double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds to go along with a team-high five assists. However, he also had six turnovers against the Rainbow Warriors, and for the season is averaging 3.2 assists and 3.1 turnovers per game.
A redshirt at Eastern last season, Valentine was selected as the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week after leading the Eagles to three-straight NCAA Division I victories in a six-day stretch in November.
Valentine then scored a season-high 29 points against Minnesota on Nov. 26, and followed that with 21 in EWU’s 78-64 victory over UC Irvine on Nov. 30. He followed that by scoring 15 at Portland in a 63-58 Eastern victory, including 12 in the second half and 10 of Eastern’s last 11 points in the final 3:13. He made three of four shots from the floor and all four of his free throws in that stretch.
And in a 61-55 win over Montana State, Valentine scored 10 points in the first half and finished with 15 for the game to go along with four assists and three steals. He assisted on three-straight baskets in the second half to give EWU a four-point lead en route to a 33-22 scoring advantage in the second half.
"Benny trusted his teammates," said head coach Kirk Earlywine after the MSU win. "Sometimes when things aren't going as well as we would like it is easy for him to go off on his own, get shots for himself and try to score. He kept throwing the ball to the right spot. It's good for him to trust his teammates like that."
En route to winning Big Sky Player of the Week honors on Nov. 25, Valentine averaged 19.3 points, 3.3 assists and 1.0 steals in EWU’s previous three games -- all victories over NCAA Division I opponents. He made 46.2 percent of his field goal attempts (18-of-39) and 68 percent of his free throws (19-of-28) as Eastern defeated UC Irvine (74-69), Texas Arlington (73-70) and Idaho (69-59).
He had 28 points and four assists versus UTA, a NCAA Tournament participant last year and the defending Southland Conference champion. Valentine is originally from Omaha, Neb., and is a 2005 graduate of Omaha Central High School.
"Against Texas Arlington and Minnesota we needed him to score for us," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "In other games, we’ve just needed him to run our team. But against UC Irvine (on Nov. 30) we needed him to do both within the same game. In the first half when we were struggling, we needed him to score and he did. In the second half, we needed him to run our team, get the ball inside and do the things that got us the 18-point lead, and he did that as well. It’s very encouraging that he is gaining a feel and understanding for what our team needs at particular moments and be willing to do that."
The Eagles found out against Idaho how important it was to have Valentine on the floor. He scored 13 points and had four assists in 29 minutes versus the Vandals, nailing all four of his free throws in the last two minutes while playing with four fouls. Eastern led by as many as 21 in the second half versus the Vandals, who were able to rally without Valentine in the game and pulled to within six with 2:19 left.
"Idaho is quick and athletic all over the floor," Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine said. "So whenever we took Benny out of the game, it certainly made things more difficult for us in terms of getting a good shot."
-- DeLeon and Busch Finally Cleared to Play -- The 75-55 Hawaii loss on Dec. 13 marked the season debuts for returning 12-game starter Adris DeLeon and junior college transfer Chris Busch, a pair of projected starters who missed the first eight games of the season. Both were officially cleared to play on Dec. 12 after final exams were completed and grades submitted. DeLeon had three points and a pair of assists in 12 minutes and Busch had three points and an assist in 11 minutes. They combined for make just 1-of-7 shots, and after two games, have combined for just 5-of-19 shooting from the field and 7-of-15 from the free throw line.
Busch is a transfer from Merritt Junior College in California. DeLeon averaged 12.5 points and 3.1 assists in 27 games last year for EWU.
"Neither one of them played well, but I almost expected that," said Earlywine after the Hawaii game of the added dynamic of inserting two new players into the lineup eight games into the season. "Adris and Chris each missed some shots, but I can live with that. But who is playing and how many minutes you are playing shouldn’t have anything to do with physical effort."
-- Eagles Win Two on Road, Four at Home -- The schedule, with just one occurrence of back-to-back road games until the start of league play, has started well for the Eagles. Eastern picked up road wins at UC Irvine and Portland, and has won four of five games at Reese Court.
Last year, Eastern had only two home games in its first 11 outings of the season. As a result, Eastern was just 3-8 to start the season before going 8-9 in their next 17 games. The Eagles ended the season with a pair of road losses and finished the season 8-5 at Reese Court and 3-14 away from home.
"I like looking at this schedule more than the one we had last year," said Earlywine. "I like the balance of home games versus road games, and I like the fact we aren’t playing more than two consecutive road games."
-- Eagles Picked to Finish as High as Seventh -- The Eastern Washington University men’s basketball program has been picked to finish as high as seventh in the Big Sky Conference in preseason polls released Oct. 22 by the Big Sky Conference.
The league’s head coaches selected EWU seventh, while the media picked EWU to finish eighth in the nine-team league. Last year, the Eagles finished 11-19 overall and seventh in the league with a 6-10 mark under first-year head coach Kirk Earlywine.
The Eagles had only three players with NCAA Division I experience on their roster last year and a total of just eight players who participated in at least 15 games. This season, Eastern has a full roster of 14 players that include six returning letter winners. Returning starters are center Brandon Moore and guards Trey Gross and Gary Gibson.
-- Pre-Season Losses Lead to Big Sky Conference Wins -- In the last nine seasons (including the 2007-08 season), Eastern has entered Big Sky Conference play with a collective 45-67 (.401) record. Those difficult schedules have yielded an 81-53 (.604) Big Sky Conference record in that span. Eastern has finished third or better in the Big Sky regular season standings in six of the last nine years en route to a pair of regular season Big Sky titles, one Big Sky Tournament title and three-runner-up tourney finishes.
In 2007-08, Eastern entered conference play 5-8, which compares favorably to the previous eight seasons (most recent are listed first) -- 6-6, 5-8, 3-10, 4-9, 8-6, 6-8, 5-5, 3-7. One of Eastern’s worst pre-conference records was in 2003-04 (4-9), 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.
-- Eastern 12-66 Versus the Pacific 10 Conference -- With losses to Washington each of the last five seasons and a 1-9 record all-time against the Huskies, Eastern is now 12-65 all-time versus current members of the Pacific 10 Conference. Eastern has a current eight-game losing streak versus the Pac 10 after losing at Washington State 68-41 on Nov. 9 and Washington 82-68 on Nov. 18 in the 2007-08 season.
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, 2006, 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).
-- Last Year - Washington 82, Eastern Washington 68 -- Junior guard Adris DeLeon provided a much-needed scoring punch with 22 points, but Washington had its own scoring punch in the first half as the Huskies recorded an 82-68 non-conference men’s basketball victory over Eastern Washington Nov. 18 at Bank of America Arena in Seattle, Wash.
DeLeon scored 16 second-half points to pull the Eagles to within 15 in the second half. That and 10-straight EWU points by Gary Gibson helped pull the Eagles to within 14 points, but Jon Brockman hit a pair of huge baskets down the stretch to help the Huskies survive.
"We had to re-capture our heart and our toughness a little bit, and I thought we did that in the second half," said Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine. "That made me happier."
DeLeon had 22 points, five assists and a pair of steals. Gibson chipped in 13 points and Matthew Brunell added 11. DeLeon, Gibson and Brunell were all playing in just their fourth NCAA Division I game.
"Some of our ball screens hurt them a little bit," said the first-year EWU head coach of EWU’s second-half comeback. "We made better decisions off of those ball screens. Adris made really good decisions with the ball and got shots for his teammates. He did that early in the game today but we missed them."
Brockman, Washington’s 6-foot-7, 255-pound All-America candidate, led all scorers with 26 points. He made 13-of-19 shots from the floor and had eight rebounds.
"He’s a load down there," Earlywine added. "We knew that going into the game, and I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to do anything to stop or slow him down. For the most part we didn’t, but there are a bunch of people who can’t do a lot with him either. So we are not alone."
The Eagles were out-rebounded 38-28 as they allowed the Huskies to grab 17 offensive rebounds. Washington made 51 percent of their shots in the game, including 58 percent in the first half. Eastern made just 34 percent in the first half but improved to 54 percent after intermission.
"No matter what happens on the offensive end of the floor for us, we still have to be competitive defensively and with our block-out," Earlywine said. "Our block-out was awful, and we don’t have the size and athletic ability to not block out. We can’t run to the front of the rim and think we are going to turn it into a run and jumping contest. We are not going to win an athletic contest against teams like Washington. We have to throw our bodies on them."
Eastern fell behind early 24-11, then found itself down 45-27 at halftime.
"We were certainly better and more competitive in the second half than we were in the first," said Earlywine. "I thought we got overwhelmed a little bit in the first half with Washington’s length and quickness. They did a good job of pressuring us out of what we wanted to do offensively."
Washington led by as many as 24 at 62-38 before DeLeon took over. He scored eight-straight EWU points to pull the Eagles to within 64-49 with 8:11 to play.
A 7-0 run by the Huskies helped Washington regain a 22-point lead, then it was Gibson’s turn to take over. He scored the first 10 points in a 12-0 run as the Huskies went scoreless for 2 1/2 minutes. Brunell’s basket with 3:40 to play cut the lead to 71-61.
Despite Brunell’s three-pointer that pulled EWU to within nine with 2:05 left, Brockman hit a pair of baskets in an 11-7 Washington run to end the game.
-- Eagles Versus Evergreen State -- The Eagles are 3-0 all-time versus the Geoducks, with all three games taking place at Reese Court. The average score of those three games is 96-63. Eastern defeated Evergreen State 93-66 in the first-ever meeting between the two schools on Dec. 22, 1998. Eastern also won 90-58 on Nov. 21, 2000, and 106-65 on Nov. 21, 2007.
-- Two Years Ago -- Eastern Washington 106, The Evergreen State 65 -- Sophomore Rodney Stuckey, freshman Brandon Moore and junior Omar Krayem combined for 70 points as Eastern Washington pounded The Evergreen State 106-65 in a non-conference men’s basketball game Nov. 21, 2007, at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
The Eagles used a 20-0 run over a 5 1/2 minute span in the first half to open a 31-6 lead over the NAIA foe. The Eagles, who finished the game making 61 percent of their shots from the field, made 13 of their first 16 shots while the Geoducks made just two of their first 16.
Eastern’s 106 points equaled its 17th-most in school history, and the most since Eastern scored 112 in a 112-86 win over Cascade College on Dec. 29, 1999.
Stuckey finished with 26 points, five rebounds and three assists as he led the Eagles in scoring for the 31st-straight game. Moore, a 6-foot-9 center and 2005 graduate of Bethel High School in Graham, Wash., had 23 points and eight rebounds in his third game as an Eagle. He made 8-of-10 shots from the field, including five dunks.
Krayem, a transfer from Lower Columbia Community College, had 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting with four three-pointers. He also had a team-high five assists.
Kellen Williams chipped in 11 points and eight rebounds, and Marcus Hinton made 8-of-12 free throws on his way to a 15-point night. Freshman Michael Taylor added eight points, five assists and four steals. Neal Zumwalt led all rebounders with 10 as Eastern held a commanding 48-26 advantage on the boards.
Eastern, which had been averaging more than 20 turnovers per game in its first three outings, had just 12 versus the Geoducks. The Eagles held The Evergreen State to 35.7 percent shooting from the field.
Eastern led by as many as 29 points in the first half before settling for a 59-34 halftime lead. Eastern held several more leads of 29 points in the second half before Evergreen State pulled to within 21 in the second half. But Eastern pulled away, with its largest lead being the final margin of 41 points.
Kirk Earlywine COMMENTS
-- On Areas That Need Work -- "We’re still very, very sloppy and not anywhere near where we need to be in terms of execution of running our sets and how we are managing the shot clock late in possessions. That was evident against Montana State. Defensively, we missed a couple of switches (against MSU) and we were very fortunate because we gave a couple of their very good shooters open looks from the arc that they didn’t knock down."
-- On 31-6 Run Against UC Irvine After Falling Behind 18-8 on Nov. 30 -- "Those 10 or 12 minutes where we were playing really well were preceded by eight or nine when we were playing really bad, so I guess it evens out. I don’t know why we made the mistakes we made early in the game to allow them to make so many three-point shots. They were just inexcusable in my eyes and we have to eliminate things like that in order for us to be good."
-- On Eagle Newcomers Against UC Irvine on Nov. 30 -- "I was really pleased with Andy Genao and Jeff Christensen. We received 28 points, 11 rebounds and only two turnovers out of those two players. They have continued to play very well and are staying within their roles in what we’ve asked them to do. That is encouraging. Mark Dunn continues to be very solid for us. He’s not going to win any beauty contests, but he continues to do what we need him to do to help us win games."
-- On Contributions from 2007-08 Redshirts Benny Valentine, Andy Genao and Jeff Christensen -- "It’s been critical and vital. Last year, we opened the season with only three players with NCAA Division I experience. And none of them had played a game for me. This year we have players that have been through it and those redshirts who also have a year in our system. They know what we want and how we want it. It’s a big factor, and those players are older as well. Jeff and Andy are both fifth-year seniors and Benny is a fourth-year junior. They aren’t as prone to the peaks and valleys of a college season as much as younger players might be. They understand how to stay the course so you don’t have those inconsistent swings in play."
-- On Continuing to Improve -- "We played very, very well at UC Irvine -- we rebounded well and we guarded well. But our block out and our conversion defense slipped noticeably in the next game. I told our players that a sign of a good team and a mature team is that when areas that are identified as needing to be improved or corrected, those things are improved and corrected immediately."
-- On Whether Playing Games With Just One Day of Preparation Time Helps During Conference Play -- "You can make that case, but I would rather not have that right now. There are things we see in games that we need practice time to work on live and at full speed, but we just simply can’t with one day between games. At this time of the year, playing games with just one day of preparation is not a good thing. But there is some benefit because you will in conference play when you have to play Thursday and Saturday. Hopefully by that time we won’t have major things that need to be worked on or fixed -- just minor tinkering."
-- On Winning Against Experienced Texas Arlington -- "They made a terrific run late in the season in the NCAA Tournament, and they have guys who have been through big games and close games. It showed in their poise and they seemed to keep their focus. They made big shots and they had no panic in their eyes. That is a good basketball team and a good win for us."
-- Four-Game Grind Ends With 3-1 Mark -- Eastern closed a stretch of four games in eight nights with an 88-67 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 26. In the first three games of its four-game grind, Eastern defeated UC Irvine (74-69), Texas Arlington (73-70) and Idaho (69-59). The win over Texas Arlington was particularly impressive because the Mavericks were a NCAA Tournament participant last year and are the defending Southland Conference champions.
"It seemed like those were the types of games that slipped away from us a year ago," said Earlywine, particularly of his team’s narrow victories over the Anteaters and Mavericks. "I don’t know if that means we are improved or the basketball gods are smiling on us at the moment. I know we are better at this point than we were a year ago at this time. How much I don’t know yet.
"Having a guard out there in Benny Valentine that can make plays and handle the ball against pressure certainly helps you in those late-game situations," added Earlywine. "Those are very good wins for us and are a sign that we’re advancing and becoming better as a program."
Eastern opened its season with a 66-50 loss on Nov. 14 at Illinois of the Big Ten Conference in a game that was tied at 35 at halftime. However, Eastern went 8:05 without a field goal during a 15-1 Illinois run in the second half to spoil a combined 27-point outing for new Valentine and returning 6-9 center Brandon Moore.
-- Eagles Versus the Big Ten Conference -- Eastern is now 0-6 all-time versus the Big Ten Conference. Before this season, the last meeting against the league took place last November against Michigan in a 61-53 loss.
11/26/08 - L - Minnesota - 67-88 - A
11/14/08 - L - Illinois - 50-66 - A
11/23/07 - L - Michigan - 53-61 - ~
12/5/03 - L - Iowa - 54-70 - #
11/15/02 - L - Wisconsin - 55-81 - $
12/28/01 - L - Indiana - 60-87 - %
11/24/01 - L - Minnesota - 68-86 - A
11/25/00 - L - Michigan State - 61-83 - &
~Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska
#Gazette Hawkeye Challenge in Iowa City, Iowa
$NABC Classic in Madison, Wisc.
%Ameritech Hoosier Classic in Indianapolis, Ind.
&Spartan Classic in Lansing, Mich.
A -- Away
-- Eagles Versus Ranked Teams -- This may be the first time since the 2002-03 season that Eastern has not played a nationally-ranked team. The Eagles have played 12 such games in the five seasons since then.
Eastern is 1-14 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 came under former head coach Mike Burns and five others came under Ray Giacoletti from 2000-2004.
12/5/07 vs. #3 Kansas - L, 47-85
11/9/07 vs. #10 Washington State - L, 41-68
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
-- Big Crowds -- The Eagles played in front of 14,422 fans at Illinois on Nov. 14, which is the sixth-largest crowd EWU has ever played against. A crowd of 11,977 were on hand on Nov. 26 when EWU played at Minnesota. Those were the 19th and 20th times since the 2000-01 season that Eastern has played in front of crowds in excess of 10,000 fans. Unfortunately, Eastern has failed to win in all 20 of those games.
Eastern’s first two games of the 2007-08 season drew crowds of 10,216 (at Washington State) and 12,016 (at New Mexico), Later in the year on Dec. 12, Eastern lost to Kansas at legendary Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan.
In the 2006 season, the Eagles played in front of 10,000 at Washington after the previous two games there drew 9,876 (2005) and 9,418 (2004). 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.
Here is a list of those crowds:
16,840 - 3/19/04 vs. Oklahoma State - L, 56-75
16,374 - 11/15/02 vs. Wisconsin - L, 55-81
16,300 - 12/5/07 vs. Kansas - L, 47-85
14,759 - 11/25/00 vs. Michigan State - L, 61-83
14,535 - 12/28/04 vs. Arizona - L, 45-79
14,422 - 11/14/08 vs. Illinois - L, 50-66
12,533 - 11/24/01 vs. Minnesota - L, 68-86
12,299 - 12/31/03 vs. Gonzaga - L, 49-70
12,016 - 11/12/06 vs. New Mexico - L, 57-92
12,000 - 12/21/04 vs. Gonzaga - L, 70-83
11,977 - 11/26/08 vs. Minnesota - L, 67-88
11,879 - 12/19/05 vs. Gonzaga - L, 65-75
11,268 - 11/21/03 vs. Oklahoma - L, 59-69
11,031 - 12/5/03 vs. Iowa - L, 54-70
11,000 - 12/22/02 vs. Gonzaga - L, 64-67
10,432 - 12/28/01 vs. Indiana - L, 60-87
10,216 - 11/20/04 vs. Wichita State - L, 62-80
10,215 - 11/9/06 vs. Washington State - L, 41-68
10,210 - 3/12/03 vs. Weber State - L, 57-60
10,000 - 11/24/06 vs. Washington - L, 83-90
-- Schedule Tough, but More Manageable in 2008-09 -- Eastern’s 2008-09 schedule is once again difficult, with road games scheduled against the likes of Illinois, Minnesota, Hawaii, Washington and Boise State. However, back-to-back road games are rare.
"It’s a challenging schedule, but it’s a little more playable than a year ago in terms of the balance of home games versus away games," explained Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "We don’t get stuck on the road too long."
In all, Eastern has six non-conference home games and seven on the road. Eastern opens the season at Illinois and UC Irvine, but after that, only during the league season does Eastern play back-to-back road games again. Last year, Eastern had only two home games in its first 11 outings of the season.
As a result, Eastern was just 3-8 to start the season before going 8-9 in their next 17 games. The Eagles ended the season with a pair of road losses and finished the season 8-5 at Reese Court and 3-14 away from home.
"I like looking at this schedule more than the one we had last year," said Earlywine. "I like the balance of home games versus road games, and I like the fact we aren’t playing more than two consecutive road games."
Last season, Eastern played a trio of NCAA Tournament teams (Kansas, Washington State and Portland State), and this year the same is true. Texas-Arlington, which lost to Memphis 87-63 in the first round, plays at EWU on Nov. 22. Boise State, a 79-61 loser to Louisville, hosts the Eagles on Dec. 29 and is scheduled to play at Eastern the following season.
The Eagles will play Big Sky Conference rival Portland State on Jan. 24 before hosting the Vikings in Cheney, Wash., on Feb. 28. Last season, Eastern lost at Kansas 85-47 and PSU fell to the eventual national champions 85-61 in the NCAA Tournament.
"We have some games against the power conferences that our guys are really excited about," said Earlywine of the schedule. Besides games against the Big 10, Pacific 10 and Western Athletic Conference, Eastern plays a home-and-home series against UC Irvine, a team from the Big West Conference which won seven of its last nine games of the 2007-08 season.
League play – believe it or not – starts just seven games into the season with a home game versus Montana State on Dec. 6. A nine-team league and the participation of some teams in the ESPN Bracketbusters in February, necessitates the early start.
"I’m definitely not in favor of playing conference games the third week of the season," said Earlywine. "But one good thing is that it’s a conference game on a Saturday at home with our students here. We did not have too many of those last year. We hope we will have a heckuva crowd with our students right before final exams with the Bobcats coming to town."
Earlywine expects Portland State to be the early favorite to repeat as league champions. The past two seasons there have been six first-year coaches in the league, and Earlywine thinks those two years of building programs by those schools will payoff this season.
"The word out there is that everybody thinks the Big Sky is going to be very, very good. I would agree," he said. "Portland State and Montana are loaded, and you can never count out Northern Arizona – Mike Adras keeps doing it year-after-year. And I think Idaho State has a chance to make a huge jump. The league is going to be good."
-- EWU in Exhibitions -- Until falling 58-56 to Carroll College on Nov. 1, Eastern had won its last 12 exhibition games, which are contests that do not count in EWU’s season record or statistics. It’s last exhibition loss came on Nov. 13, 1999, to the Northwest Basketball Camp (NBC) Thunder. In that 73-71 loss, former Pepperdine player Shann Ferch made a three-point play with 19 seconds to lift NBC to the win. Here is a list of recent exhibition games:
11/8/08 - Puget Sound - W, 90-66
11/1/08 - Carroll - L, 56-58
11/3/07 - Pacific - W, 91-49
11/4/06 - Northwest Nazarene - W, 98-55
11/13/05 - UC-San Diego - W, 75-44
11/13/04 - Central Washington - W, 79-63
11/12/03 - Ukraine Touring Team - W, 83-55
11/7/03 - Northwest Sports - W, 100-79
11/7/02 - Northwest Basketball Camp (NBC) Thunder - W, 99-72
11/1/02 - Northwest Sports - W, 117-73
11/2/01 - NBC Thunder - W, 108-106
10/10/01 - Alumni - W, 94-85
11/14/00 - SON Blue Angels - W, 90-78
11/4/00 - NBC Thunder - W, 72-63
11/13/99 - NBC Thunder - L, 71-73
11/5/99 - The Hoop USA - W, 106-64
-- Three Eagles Miss Carroll Game -- Of the three Eagles who missed Eastern’s exhibition opener against Carroll College, returning center Brandon Moore had a knee injury and returned to play 14 minutes against Puget Sound. Forward Chris Busch and guard Adris DeLeon were not cleared to play.
The absence of those three players made it difficult for Earlywine to get a good feel for his team and how the team’s five newcomers blend with six returning letter winners and three returning redshirts in game situations.
"It was hard because there are some questions I have about this year’s team that we needed the exhibition games and early-season games to answer in terms of combinations in our lineup, minutes and so forth," explained Earlywine. "I couldn’t get any of those questions answered against Carroll.
"I didn’t see as much personnel as I would have liked, and obviously I was disappointed but not discouraged at all," he added. "I knew that when we scheduled Carroll that they would come in and be competitive and would compete. I didn’t want to schedule somebody that we were going to beat by 20, 25, or 30 points and not get anything out of the game.
-- Earlywine Sees Carroll Loss as Learning Opportunity -- Earlywine wasn’t as concerned about the loss to Carroll as he was with the learning opportunities.
"Like I told our guys, that loss will be long forgotten and meaningless in March if we can use the things that we learned from that loss to get better and improve," he said. "We need to keep taking steps in the direction we need to go.
"I also told our players that Ohio State (by Findlay) and Michigan State (by Grand Valley State) were defeated by non-Division I teams last year," Earlywine added. "It’s not the end of the world. What we do from here to improve is much more important than the final score in an exhibition game."
-- Positives from Carroll Game -- Returning starter Trey Gross scored 17 to lead the Eagles against Carroll, and returning guard Milan Stanojevic chipped in 11. Six-foot-8 Mark Dunn added seven points and 10 rebounds, and Gary Gibson had six points, three steals and three assists -- all in the second half as he fueled EWU’s comeback from a 19-point deficit.
"Certainly, Mark Dunn’s play was a positive," Earlywine said. "Double-digit rebounds for him was a pleasant surprise. His conditioning continues to get a little better and a little better and his play was very encouraging. He certainly played more minutes against Carroll than he would have if Brandon had been healthy.
"I also thought Gary Gibson’s play in the second half was a positive," he added. "But those two things were really about the extent of the good news from the Carroll game."
-- Practice Time a Premium for Eagles -- One of Kirk Earlywine’s early-season concerns in preparing for a mid-November opener is the lack of practice time prior to that opener after practices began on the late date of Oct. 17.
"I think more than anything else, the five fewer days of practice this year makes it difficult," he explained. "This year it was the nature of the calendar -- we start practice on the Friday nearest to October 15th. A year ago that was October 12th and this year it was on October 17th. So we lost five days of practice this year.
"I think as you establish a program and have more returning guys in your program, that’s probably a little easier to overcome," he said. "But it’s not enough time when you have new players and are trying to establish a program. We were nowhere near to being ready to play a full game against Carroll -- we hadn’t even scrimmaged or had referees in our gym yet. We certainly looked like it."
-- Moore Impressive in Last Eight Games of 2007-08 Season-- Sophomore Brandon Moore averaged 11.3 points and 7.6 rebounds on 53.1 percent shooting in the last eight games of the 2007-08 season. He closed the season with seven points and 12 rebounds in a loss at Portland State, but in his previous game at Northern Colorado he played just 22 minutes because of early foul trouble and finished with only two points and one rebound.
The 6-foot-9 Moore helped lead the Eagles to a crucial home sweep over Weber State (69-57) and Idaho State (63-53) in mid-February as he scored 35 points and had 14 rebounds. He made 14-of-20 shots in the two games and added two blocked shots and two steals. Six of his rebounds were on the offensive end, including four offensive boards versus Weber State.
-- More on the Big Sky Conference Polls -- Ken Bone’s Portland State Vikings have been selected by the coaches and the media to capture the 2008-09 Big Sky Conference men’s basketball title in preseason polls released Oct. 22. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.
Portland State, which finished 23-10 in 2007-08, earned seven first-place votes from the coaches and 63 total points. The Vikings earned 23 of 26 first-place votes from the media and 230 total points.
Portland State won the regular-season title in 2007-08, finishing 14-2 in conference. The Vikings won their first ever postseason championship, downing Northern Arizona 67-51 in the championship game. Portland State’s season came to an end with a loss to eventual national champion Kansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Vikings return Big Sky MVP Jeremiah Dominguez, a senior guard from Salem, Ore. Dominguez averaged 14.2 points and four assists per game. The Vikings are expected to be bolstered by Phil Nelson (Washington), Dominic Waters (Hawai’i) and Jamie Jones (Portland), who all sat out last season after transferring from Division I institutions.
The University of Montana was selected second in both polls. The Grizzlies earned two first-place votes from the coaches and 56 total points. Montana also earned two first-place votes from the media and 180 total points. Wayne Tinkle’s Grizzlies finished the 2007-08 season 14-16, losing in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Championship. The Grizzlies will be led by senior forward Jordan Hasquet, and junior guard Ryan Staudacher. Montana will also benefit from the addition of Division I transfers Jack McGillis (Oregon State) and Michael Taylor (Eastern Washington).
Joe O’Brien’s Idaho State Bengals were selected third in both polls. The Bengals received one first-place vote from the media, and 169 total points. In the coaches’ poll, the Bengals earned 49 total points. Idaho State returns four starters from a team that finished 8-8 in conference play last season, including senior guard Matt Stucki and junior guard Amorrow Morgan. The Bengals returned seven of the top eight scorers from last year’s squad.
Northern Arizona, which has advanced to the Big Sky Championship game three consecutive years, was picked fourth by the coaches and fifth by the media. Weber State, which claimed the 2006-07 championship, was tabbed fourth by the media and fifth by the coaches. Northern Arizona will be led by senior guard Josh Wilson, who ranks fifth on the Big Sky’s career assists list with 551. Weber State will be led by senior forward Daviin Davis and senior guard Kellen McCoy.
Northern Colorado, entering its third year of league play, was picked sixth in both polls. Tad Boyle’s Bears return four starters and nine lettermen from the 2007-08 team, which won 13 overall games. Leading the way is senior forward Jabril Banks, who averaged 13.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior.
Rounding out the polls were Eastern Washington, Montana State and Sacramento State. EWU was picked seventh by the coaches and eighth by the media. Montana State was picked seventh by the media and eighth by the coaches. Sacramento State, which enters the season with new coach Brian Katz, was selected ninth in both polls.
Weber State will be the first team to play this season, opening against Miami, Ohio, on Wednesday, Nov. 12 in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Westwood, Calif. Six other Big Sky teams open play on Friday, Nov. 14.
The Big Sky Championship begins with quarterfinal games on Saturday, March 7. The semifinals and championship will be played on Tuesday, March 10, and Wednesday, March 11 at the home of the regular-season champion.
The semifinal games will be televised on Altitude Sports & Entertainment. The championship game will be shown live on ESPN2.
Team (First-place votes) - Total Points
1. Portland State (7) - 63
2. Montana (2) 56
3. Idaho State - 49
4. Northern Arizona - 41
5. Weber State - 34
6. Northern Colorado - 29
7. Eastern Washington - 22
8. Montana State - 14
9. Sacramento State 10
Team (First-place votes) - Total Points
1. Portland State (23) - 230
2. Montana (2) 180
3. Idaho State (1) - 169
4. Weber State 165
5. Northern Arizona - 153
6. Northern Colorado - 104
7. Montana State - 76
8. Eastern Washington - 64
9. Sacramento State - 38
-- Eagles 0-15 Versus Big 12 -- Eastern Washington has lost all 15 games it has played against current members of the Big 12 Conference, including an 0-4 record versus Nebraska. In the last three meetings against Big 12 foes, Eastern has played a nationally-ranked team. Here is the complete list:
12/30/80 - L - Nebraska - 68-82 - A
1/12/84 - L - Kansas State - 57-64 - A
1/14/84 - L - Nebraska - 71-105 - A
1/9/85 - L - Kansas State - 43-81 - A
12/21/91 - L - Nebraska - 67-102 - ~
12/2/94 - L - Colorado - 67-87 - #
11/29/97 - L - Baylor - 51-67 - A
11/20/99 - L - Baylor - 61-68 - A
12/18/99 - L - Colorado - 61-79 - A
12/16/00 - L - Kansas State - 56-70 - A
12/31/02 - L - Nebraska - 60-63 - A
11/21/03 - L - #14 Oklahoma - 59-69 - $
3/19/04 - L - #3 Oklahoma State - 56-75 - %
12/5/07 - L - #3 Kansas - 47-85 - A
~ -- Nebraska Ameritas Classic in Lincoln, Neb. (2nd)
# -- Mile High Classic in Boulder, Colo.
$ -- Sooner Invitational in Norman, Okla.
% -- NCAA Tournament in Kansas City, Mo. (first round)
A -- Away
-- Eastern Just The Fifth BSC School to Make Nine-Straight Tournament Appearances -- Although its streak came to an end in the 2006-07 season, 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). Two years ago, 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 Montana - L, 71-73 (ot)
2006 - Quarterfinal (Cheney, Wash.) - #3 seed vs. #6 Portland State - W, 81-75
2005 - Quarterfinal (Missoula, Mont.) - #6 seed vs. #3 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 Weber State - W, 72-53
2003 - Championship (Ogden, Utah) - #2 seed vs. #1 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 Idaho - L, 62-65
1990 - Semifinals (Boise, Idaho) - #2 seed vs. #5 Weber State - W, 83-67
12/16/88 - L - Missouri - 68-81 - A