Eastern looks to remain perfect at home Wednesday against a tough Cal Poly team before heading to California for two road games against UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton
Date - Opponent - Time/Pacific
Dec. 16 - vs. Cal Poly - 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 19 - at UC Irvine - 4 p.m.
Dec. 21 - at Cal State Fullerton - 7 p.m.
Eagle Webcasts . . .
All of Eastern Washington's women's basketball games at home, as well as all Big Sky Conference games, will be available to view, free of charge, at www.bigskytv.org.
By Keenan Bowen, EWU Sports Information
The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team will play its last home game of the month of December Wednesday (Dec. 12) at Reese Court against the Cal Poly Mustangs, with game time set for 7:05 p.m. The Eagles will then hit the road for two more non-conference games against UC Irvine (Dec. 19) and Cal State Fullerton (Dec. 21) before opening Big Sky Conference play at Sacramento State on New Year's Eve (Dec. 31).
The Eagles fly into Wednesday's game against the Mustangs undefeated at Reese Court and on a two-game winning streak. The Eagles forced 26 turnovers against Cal State Northridge on Dec. 4 en route to a 68-50 victory and shot 54 percent from the field last Saturday (Dec. 12) to beat Montana Tech 87-60.
Cal Poly is 4-3 overall and is coming off a historic 73-52 victory over San Francisco Sunday (Dec. 13). The win marked just the second Mustangs victory over the Dons in program history, and the first since 1981. Forward Kristina Santiago had 25 points in that game, and is averaging 19.1 points per game heading into Wednesday's game. Santiago is also pulling down 6.1 rebounds a game, second most on the team. Other top performers for the Mustangs include Becky Tratter (11 PPG, 4.4 RPG) and Rachel Clancy (10.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG).
"Cal Poly is a good basketball team -- they have beaten a couple of good WCC teams and have played a tough schedule like us," said head coach Wendy Schuller. "We talk to our team all the time about the importance of playing well at home and the game against Cal Poly is no different."
"Offensively, they have a big scorer at forward and we are going to have to do a great job on her," said Schuller. "They are just a great transition team - they run well and push the ball down the court. Our transition defense is something we are going to have to do a good job with. For us we need to execute and take good shots -- that's a big key for us this game and as the season progresses."
Eastern will make their first trip out of the Northwest this season for their match-up with the UC Irvine Anteaters. The Anteaters are just 2-6 on the season but have some momentum after picking up a victory on Dec. 5 against Seattle, using a last-second layup for the 60-59 advantage. The Anteaters are led in scoring by point guard Jade Smith-Williams, who is averaging 13.9 points per game while dishing out 4.3 assists per game. UC Irvine is shooting just 38 percent from the field and is averaging 20.4 turnovers a game.
The Titans of Cal State Fullerton are coming off two close loses at home against Loyola Marymount and BYU, losing both by a combined five points. Sitting at 3-6 overall, the Titans feature two high scorers in Megan Richardson (15.1 PPG) and Lyndsey Grove (13.7 PPG).
"It's always tough to play around Christmas time -- it is hard to keep their minds on basketball," said Schuller. "They haven't seen their families in awhile and they are anxious to see them. Hopefully the maturity our team has will carry into that aspect. We are playing two good basketball teams on the road in UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton, so we have to maintain our focus while on this road trip."
Second-Year Players Making Strides: Second-year players have been a bright spot early on for the Eagles, with true sophomore guards Brianne Ryan and Chene Cooper taking their game to another level.
"Cooper has really matured this season in terms of taking care of the ball and decision making," said Schuller. "She still does a great job of pushing the tempo for us and creating things as she did last season, but this year she is doing that a little more under control and making good choices."
Cooper is averaging 6.9 points a game off the bench, including a back-to-back games in which she scored a team high 17 in a win against Memphis and 14 against Gonzaga. She also averages 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
"Ryan has really rounded out nicely this season -- she is a good rebounder and is turning into our defensive stopper," said Schuller. "We know we can put her on the opponent's perimeter shooter, and with her speed, length and hard play, that she'll do a great job."
Ryan has started all nine games this season and is averaging 8.6 points per game, along with 4.1 rebounds and a team-high 2.1 steals per game.
Although not a second-year player, Schuller has been impressed with the progression of senior starting point guard Jessica Huntington. She is averaging 7.3 points a game along with 3.8 assists, and is shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from behind the arc.
"Huntington has really become a scorer for us," said Schuller. "She'll get to the rim and shoot the three, and is just playing with a lot of confidence."
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ESPN College Scoreboard -- http://scores.espn.go.com/ncw/scoreboard
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Recent EWU Women's Basketball Headlines . .
December 12, 2009 - Eagles Bury Orediggers 87-60
December 4, 2009 - Eagles Fly Through Matadors 68-50
December 1, 2009 - Eagles Fall to Gonzaga 87-61
November 29, 2009 - Cooper Leads Eagles to 58-54 Win Over Memphis
November 27, 2009 - Eagle Offense Struggles in Loss to Huskies
November 24, 2009 - Eagles Head to Seattle for Tough Games at Husky Classic
November 21, 2009 - Eagles Overwhelm Warriors in 93-33 Victory
November 19, 2009 - Eagles Force 26 Turnovers in Overtime Win
EWU Basketball Highlights . . .
- The Eagles have advanced to the Big Sky Conference semifinals three of the past eight years.
- For the last eight years, Eastern has ranked among the top 10 teams nationally in the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Academic Top 25 Honor Roll. In 2003-04, Eastern had the top grade point average in the country, 3.63. In 2008-09 EWU ranked ninth (3.42).
- Two Eagles have attained ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America second team honors - Joanna Chadd in 2006-07 and Kathleen Nygaard in 2003-04.
- The past eight seasons, 67 players have earned Big Sky All-Academic honors, the most in the league.
Eagle Returning Letter Winners . . .
Julie Piper attained the most impressive recognition for the Eagles during her sophomore season in 2008-09, as she earned All-Big Sky honorable mention accolades. She also ranked highly in the league's statistical rankings, placing fifth in free throw shooting (78.3 percent), sixth in rebounds per game (6.8) and 18th in points per game (11.1). Her shooting from the charity stripe also placed her 130th among NCAA Division I players and was the eighth-best in Eastern history. She will enter her junior campaign second in EWU history for career free throw shooting percentage (76.0). She had the best scoring output by an Eagle in the 2008-09 season, scoring 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting in Eastern's battle with Big Sky runner-up Portland State on Jan. 24. Piper also set the team pace in rebounds in 18 different contests.
Kyla Evans continued her attack on the Eastern record books as a sophomore. She made 60 three-point baskets, the fifth-highest single-season total ever recorded by an Eagle, and moved her career sum to 112, good for fifth place. In fact, the sophomore's current career three-point shooting percentage of 38.4 is on pace to set the school record. Evans placed 82nd nationally in three-point shooting percentage (36.1) and 100th in three-point baskets per game (2.07). She was third and eighth in those respective categories in the Big Sky ranks. She made 6-of-10 in a 90-75 win over Montana State on Jan. 29 to help the Eagles to within one of the school record of three-point makes in a game (EWU shot 13-of-27 from beyond the arc in that contest). Evans showed her prowess in the classroom, as well, earning ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District 8 first team accolades. She was also the EWU Scholar-Athlete of the Month for December.
Nicole Scott had an outstanding junior season, as well, and the best display of her skills came on Dec. 13 against Pacific that helped her earn Co-Big Sky Player of the Week honors. In that contest, Scott nailed all six of her shots, including three treys, in the best shooting performance by an Eagle since Felice Moore also went 6-of-6 at Montana State on March 6, 2004. Additionally, Scott crafted an impressive streak of consecutive free throws made with 29 straight from Nov. 25-Feb. 7, just two shy of being one of the 22 longest such streaks in Division I history. She led the league in free throw shooting in Big Sky games by converting on 86.5 percent of her attempts (32-of-37). She was also an intimidating force inside, placing sixth in the conference in blocks per game (0.97).
Jessica Huntington was one of the steadiest point guards in the country in her junior season, as her assist-turnover ratio of 1.85 (94-to-50) was the tops in the Big Sky and 23rd best among Division I players. She also averaged 3.24 assists per game, placing seventh in that category among league players. She converted 40.7 of her three-point attempts (22-of-54), the sixth-best average in Eastern Washington history.
Tatjana Sparavalo also had some impressive performances during her sophomore season. She scored 15 in a challenging road game versus UNLV and shot at a high level against Portland on Dec. 15, making 5-of-9 attempts from the floor. In addition, Sparavalo had six of Eastern's points during a game-changing 18-3 run in a victory over Weber State on Jan. 10.
Brianne Ryan started 19 games as a freshman and saw her shooting percentages rise once league play commenced, markedly in the three-point category. She shot 27.3 percent from the arc in non-conference games (9-of-33) and 45.2 percent in league contests (14-of-31).
Chene Cooper also played well as a freshman in 2008-09. Her aggressive nature showed in her steals per game average of 1.62, seventh-best in the Big Sky. She also placed 12th in assists per contest with 2.41. In addition, she improved her shot-selection and shot-conversion skills throughout the season, making just 28.3 percent of her attempts through the first 22 games before converting on 41.3 percent over the last seven games.
Breauna Russell played in 16 games as an Eastern freshman in 2008-09, finishing the year with 16 points and 11 steals.
About Head Coach Wendy Schuller . . .
Under head coach Wendy Schuller, the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team has reached heights unseen in Cheney in decades, both on and off the basketball court.
Over the past eight campaigns, the team has been ranked amongst the top 10 squads on the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Academic Top 25 Honor Roll, something only achieved by one other team (Indiana State). The Eagle squad of 2003-04 placed first nationally with a 3.63 grade point average.
Schuller led Eastern to back-to-back .500-or-better regular-season Big Sky Conference records for the first time in school history (2004-05 and 2005-06) as well as tournament appearances in five of her eight seasons at EWU. To put that achievement into perspective, Eastern Washington played in just five BSC Tournaments in its first 13 years of Big Sky play.
Since the Big Sky began sponsoring women's sports in 1988-89, the Eagles have compiled two overall winning seasons and five trips to the Big Sky Conference Tournament semifinals. Both of those winning marks came during Schuller's time on the Eastern campus, as did three of the five conference semifinal appearances.
Schuller and the Eagles have made Reese Court a challenging place for visitors to play, as Eastern has compiled a commanding 38-29 mark (.567 winning percentage) in its last 67 games played there. Eastern went 8-6 at home last year en route to recording 2.5 times as many overall wins as was attained the previous year, 10.
In 2005-06, Eastern Washington qualified for the Big Sky Conference Championship for the seventh consecutive season and was the fourth seed at the event for the second straight season, its highest seeding since the 1994-95 campaign.
She led Eastern to a winning campaign in 2004-05 (16-12) to start just the team's second set of consecutive winning seasons for the Eagles since the 1986-87 and 1987-88 campaigns.
The 2003-04 season saw Eastern Washington qualify for the BSC Tournament semifinal round for the third straight season.
In 2002-03, Eastern had its first winning campaign in 16 years at 17-12 and came the closest to making the Big Sky championship game in school history, falling in the semifinal round to top seed and host Weber State by just nine points, 64-55.
In Schuller's first season of 2001-02, Eastern Washington claimed a tournament quarterfinal contest as the fifth seed for the first of two straight seasons. The Eagles topped No. 4 Northern Arizona 70-57 to mark its furthest advancement in the tournament in seven years.
Prior to arriving at Eastern, Schuller began her coaching career at Northwestern State University. In 1993, she started coaching as a graduate assistant for the Lady Demons while earning a master's degree in sports administration.
Following graduation, she became a full-time assistant, and her duties included acting as defensive coordinator and primary recruiter and working with opponent preparation and general operations.
In 1997, she was promoted to associate head coach.
Her last six years at the Natchitoches, La., school saw her also serve as the senior woman administrator.
In total, Schuller coached for nine seasons at NSU under head coach James Smith, the most successful coach in Southland Conference history.
In that time span, the team won 185 games and two conference titles and earned a pair of wins over top-25 teams as one of the top-30 winningest NCAA Division I programs of the 1990s.
Schuller earned her bachelor's degree in business in 1992 from Fresno Pacific University after playing for the Sunbirds as a shooting guard.
Her senior season, she helped lead FPU to a 25-6 record, a No. 14 national ranking in the NAIA ranks and advancement to the NAIA Tournament's Round of 16. She was also selected as an NAIA Academic All-American that season.
A native of Redlands, Calif., Schuller and her husband, Mark, have an 9-year-old son, Rory (born Oct. 16, 2000), and a 6-year-old daughter, Megan (born July 15, 2003). The family resides in Cheney.