Eastern returns from road trip with undefeated Big Sky Conference record intact at 5-0, but faces challenge in second place Idaho State on Jan. 22 and Weber State on Jan. 23
Date - Opponent - Time/Pacific
Jan. 22 - Idaho State at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. - 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 23 - Weber State at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. - 7:05 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
After returning from a pair of tough road games, the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team emerged untouched and are off to their best conference start in 25 years.
The Eagles are 5-0 in league play for the first time in 25 years since the Eagles were 6-0 in the Mountain West Athletic Conference in the 1984-85 season. Eastern has not been 5-0 since the MWAC merged with the Big Sky Conference in the 1988-89 school year.
The Idaho State Bengals are up next for the Eagles and the showdown of the first- and second-place Big Sky teams is set for Friday Jan. 22 at Reese Court, with tipoff at 7:05 p.m. The Bengals are 4-1 in Big Sky play, and have won their last three games in a row. Montana, who the Eagles defeated in overtime 67-64 on Jan. 8, is the only conference loss for the Bengals.
The Bengals, who are 9-9 overall, are led by forward Oana Iacovita who is averaging a team-high 13.6 points per game and 6.1 rebounds a game. Iacovita also leads the team in blocks with nine on the year.
"Idaho State is battling right now for one of the top spots in the league and has played very well," said head coach Wendy Schuller. "They have a strong inside presence as well as a quality point guard. We know that they will come to town focused and we are going to have to be prepared and work hard to defend our home floor."
The Eagles will then turn right around and match up with Weber State on Saturday Jan. 23, with tipoff also set for 7:05 p.m. The Wildcats have struggled in Big Sky play so far, beginning 1-4 with their lone win coming at home against Northern Colorado.
Although the Wildcats are just 1-9 on the road this season, they remain a challenge as long as senior point guard Tonya Schnibbe is on the court. Schnibbe, a Spokane native, leads the team in scoring with 11.3 points per game and has 116 assists on the season for an average of 6.4 per contest.
"Weber State is a team whose record in conference doesn't indicate how good of a team they are," said Schuller. "They play extremely hard and defend well. It will be another back-to-back game for us so it will be vital for us to regroup quickly after Friday and be ready for the Wildcats."
Road Warriors: The Eagles stayed undefeated after a trip to Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado but it wasn't easy. Eastern handled the Lumberjacks 66-52 but had some trouble with the Bears, holding on in the final seconds for a 51-49 victory.
"We are pleased with our start in Big Sky play," said Schuller. "I have especially been happy with our ability to find ways to win on the road. This past weekend was a difficult trip in terms of duration and travel, and we played two tough teams. I thought our effort on the defensive end of the floor was superb and a key to our victories."
Guard Brianne Ryan led the Eagles with a team-high 18 points in the close victory against Northern Colorado. Senior forward Nicole Scott proved to be a defensive force in both games, coming up with four blocks against Northern Arizona and three against Northern Colorado.
"It was good to see Ryan assert herself and attack the rim at Northern Colorado," said Schuller. "I also thought she did a great job defensively in both road games."
"Scott's presence in the paint as a defender was also big for us," said Schuller. "She did things for us that don't always show up on stat sheets but are keys to success."
Work to be Done: Coach Schuller is happy with the Eagles start in conference, but still says there are several things they need to work on to continue their success.
"Our start is exciting, but as a team we have talked about several ways we need to improve, especially on the offensive end of the floor," said Schuller. "We have had a variety of players step up on the offensive end of the floor for us but we need more consistency from individual players and we have some more specific areas offensively where we know we can improve as a team."
Back-to-Back Games: In a league-wide cost-cutting measure, schools will be playing more back-to-back games -- as is the case in this upcoming homestand for the Eagles.
"We have great depth and that will help us with back-to-back games, especially as we get deeper into conference play," said Schuller.
In their first back-to-back series this season on Jan. 8-9, the Eagles defeated both Montana and Montana State.
Losing Streak Broken: Eastern's 67-64 overtime victory over Montana on Jan. 8 was its first win in the series since the 2005-06 season, when the Eagles edged the Lady Griz 58-56 at Reese Court. The win on Jan. 8 broke a seven-game losing streak to the Lady Griz, who are the reigning Big Sky Conference champions.
"We knew coming in that Montana played a tough zone defense," said head coach Wendy Schuller. "That gave us trouble especially early in the game and we were not attacking it the way we needed to be attacking. We made some adjustments and I thought our team did a nice job of making some key stops down the stretch."
Those key stops came in the way of turnovers by Montana down the stretch when Eastern held a one-point lead. Sarah Ena, who led Montana in scoring with 19 points, turned the ball over with 15 seconds remaining and Lauren Beck turned the ball over with five seconds remaining to put the game on ice for the Eagles.
Off on the Right Foot: The Eagles went into their Big Sky opener on Dec. 31 at Sacramento State amidst a three-game losing streak but were able to get back on track when it mattered most -- in conference play.
Eastern defeated the Hornets 90-85 and in the process four Eagles scored in double figures, including the second double-double in a row for guard Brianne Ryan. Point guard Jessica Huntington turned in one of her most impressive performances of the season - scoring nine points, dishing out 10 assists and pulling down seven rebounds.
"We were very pleased with the Sacramento State win," said Schuller. "Anytime you can win on the road in this league - it is a good thing."
"Sacramento State is talented and plays a very different style; I was pleased with our team's ability to adapt and to follow our game plan. It was a win that I think we can also attribute to some lessons we learned from our non-conference schedule."
Senior Leadership: Head Coach Wendy Schuller has been impressed with the progression and leadership of senior starting point guard Jessica Huntington. She is averaging six points a game along with a team-high 4.1 assists, and ranks first in the Big Sky with a 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio. Her 70 assists rank seventh in the conference.
"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."
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 7.4 points a game off the bench, including back-to-back games in which she scored a team-high 17 in a win against Memphis and 14 against Gonzaga. She also averages 2.9 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 17 games this season and is averaging 8.8 points per game, along with 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game.
Eastern Basketball -- http://goeags.com/sports/w-baskbl/index
Big Sky Conference Basketball -- http://bigskyconf.com/sport.asp?path=wbball&tab=womens
NCAA Basketball -- http://www.ncaa.com/sports/w-baskbl/ncaa-w-baskbl-body.html
ESPN College Scoreboard -- http://scores.espn.go.com/ncw/scoreboard
Coach Schuller's Website -- http://www.coachschuller.com/
Coach Schuller's Twitter -- http://twitter.com/EWUCoachSchu
More Information and Links are Available at: HTTP://WWW.GOEAGS.COM
Recent EWU Women's Basketball Headlines . . .
January 16, 2010 - Eagles Sneak Past Bears 51-49
January 14, 2010 - Eagles Cut Down Lumberjacks 66-52
January 11, 2010 - Road Awaits First-Place Eagles
January 9, 2010 - Eagles Victorious Over Bobcats 69-63
January 8, 2010 - Eagles Best Lady Griz in Overtime Triller 67-64
January 4, 2010 - Eagles Face Montana Schools at Reese Court
December 31, 2009 - Eagles Swat Hornets in 90-85 Shootout
December 29, 2009 - Eagles Open Big Sky Play at Sacramento State
December 21, 2009 - Eagles Lose Close Contest with Titans 58-55
December 19, 2009 - Anteaters Drop Eagles In Irvine
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.