Eastern solidifies hold on sixth place as Cooper and Piper combine for 39 points
Senior Julie Piper and junior Chene Cooper combined for 39 points, as Eastern Washington University went on to defeat Northern Arizona 59-54 in a Big Sky Conference women's basketball game Thursday (Feb. 17) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Cooper scored six points in the final minute, as EWU ended the game with a 9-0 run. Northern Arizona went the final 1:58 without scoring and had four misses and a turnover in that span. Piper hit the first basket in the game-ending run, then Cooper made a three-pointer with 51.4 to play to give Eastern the lead for good.
"There is a fine line between winning and losing, and we were on the right side of that line tonight," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "Coop hit some big shots for us, and we made stops when we needed to. In close games like that, it comes down to who can make those plays down the stretch."
Cooper finished with 23 points – one shy of her career high – and Piper had 17. Cooper also had six rebounds, five assists and a pair of steals, while Piper finished with seven rebounds and three steals.
The Eagles solidified their hold on sixth place in the league standings, and are now 6-5 in Big Sky play and 10-14 overall. The Lumberjacks are now 4-8 in the league and 9-16 overall and are 2 ½ games behind the Eagles in the standings. The top six teams earn berths in the Big Sky Conference Tournament, held March 10-12 at the site of the regular-season champion.
No other Eagle scored in double figures, with Brianne Ryan chipping in seven points and six assists. Eastern made 38 percent of its shots from the field and held NAU to 31 percent shooting.
"When a team shoots 30 percent from the field, then you know you're doing something right," said Schuller of Eastern's defensive effort. "We thought the team did a great job with the scout. Brianne Ryan especially did a great job on Amy Patton, who is easily one of the best players in our league."
Eastern also had a 45-42 rebounding edge and both teams had 20 turnovers.
"We really rebounded well in the second half," added Schuller. "We were beasts on the glass, which helps tremendously in tight games."
The first half featured eight ties and three lead changes, and the biggest lead for either team was just five points.
But Eastern went on a 14-3 run to start the second half, with Piper pouring in eight points and grabbing two steals.
"It always helps having Julie on the floor," said Schuller. "She was really aggressive offensively, and her teammates did a good job of getting her the ball."
Cooper added four points, two assists and a pair of steals in the run, and a basket by Brianne Ryan gave the Eagles a 38-28 lead with 14:02 to play.
Eastern led by as many as 11 at 40-29, but NAU battled back, and eventually took a 45-44 lead with 7:19 to play. The Lumberjacks completed the 20-5 run and built a four-point advantage after the Eagles scored just five points in a 6:36 span.
Northern Arizona held the lead until a short jumper by Piper and a clutch three-pointer by Cooper gave Eastern a 55-54 lead with 51 ticks left on the clock.
Eastern won 60-53 earlier this season in Flagstaff. Eastern went on a 13-4 run midway through the second half of that game and made 6-of-6 free throws in the final seconds to hold on for the victory.
Eastern now leads the all-time series with NAU, 29-23. The Eagles have won six of the last seven meetings, including four in a row at Reese Court. Under Schuller, the Eags are 8-2 when playing on their home floor versus NAU.
Eastern returns to Reese Court on Saturday at 2:05 p.m. Pacific time to host Weber State, who suffered a 68-60 loss to Portland State on Thursday. The Wildcats are further behind in the standings with a 1-10 mark in the Big Sky and are 5-18 overall. Eastern beat WSU 73-67 in Ogden on Feb. 12, but it was a tight game that EWU won after hitting some important shots down the stretch.
Saturday's game versus Weber State will be the 69th meeting in history between the Eagles and Wildcats. WSU leads the all-time series, 44-24, but Eastern has won the last five in a row. Since Schuller took over the reins of the EWU women's program in the 2001-02 season, the Eags have gone 4-5 when playing Weber State at Reese Court.