Eastern still earns automatic bid into the Women’s National Invitation Tournament with seeding to be announced Monday
The No. 1 seed Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team was upset by the No. 6 seed Montana State Bobcats 65-57 Friday in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Montana State will take on No. 5 seed Portland State Saturday at 2:05 p.m. Pacific time in the conference title game at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. The lower-seeded teams have won all four tournament games thus far.
“Obviously we are very disappointed in the outcome,” said head coach Wendy Schuller. “It was two teams playing as hard as they possibly could. In the end, Montana State hit some big shots in the last two or three minutes and we didn’t.”
Eastern’s season is not over, though, as regular-season conference winners are given an automatic bid in the WNIT if they are not selected for the NCAA Tournament. The Women’s National Invitation Tournament will release its full 64-team field for the Postseason WNIT late Monday night, March 15, via womensnit.com.
The field will include 31 teams that earn automatic berths, and 33 teams that are chosen at-large. The bracket will be released a few hours following the NCAA Tournament selection, which finishes its announcement at 5 p.m. Pacific time Monday, March 15.
The Postseason WNIT will open with first-round games March 17-19. All games are hosted by participating schools.
“It’s a good chance to go out and play another game in the postseason – we haven’t done that in a while,” said forward Julie Piper. “We want to win a game there and end the season on a high note. I don’t want it to end on this note and I am still glad we still have that chance. We will play better basketball.”
The Eagles were without Big Sky MVP Piper for the last 18 minutes of the first half as she picked up two quick fouls. Piper then played every minute of the second half and finished with eight points and two rebounds.
“It’s hard when you have to set for 18 minutes and then a whole halftime,” said Schuller. “She tried to go out there and get after it (in the second half) but she never got into any type of rhythm. It’s unfortunate but it is part of the game.”
The Eagles were also without starter Kyla Evans, who sat out with a back injury.
“Evans has had some back problems all year – some stiffness and some issues there,” said Schuller. “Our athletic trainer had been giving her typical therapy and getting her ready to go and her back spasmed to the point she couldn’t sit up. When your back goes it’s hard to move and do much.”
Brianne Ryan led the Eagles in scoring with 10 points in the game. Ryan, who played all 40 minutes, also had five rebounds. Nicole Scott pulled down 12 rebounds and added eight points, along with a game-high four blocks.
Free throw shooting hurt the Eagles as they finished 7-of-15 from the charity stripe, compared to 17-of-23 by the Bobcats. Both squads committed 14 turnovers and the Eagles’ bench contributed 19 points while only starters scored for the Bobcats.
Eastern finished the contest shooting 39.3 percent from the field including 25 percent from behind the arc. Montana State shot 41.5 percent in the contest and shot 30.8 percent from long range.
The Eagles were leading 10-3 at the 15:53 mark when Montana State went on a 10-0 run over the next three minutes. Eastern regained the lead at the 11:22 mark and went into halftime with a 26-25 lead.
In the second half, the lead transferred hands many times before the Bobcats took the lead for good with 3:57 remaining thanks to a three-pointer by Sarah Strand. Her shot was part of a 7-0 run that opening a insurmountable five point lead.