Eastern prepares for tough test in conference opener against the league's most efficient offensive team
The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team will enjoy home court advantage in its 2011-12 Big Sky Conference debut. But the team it plays on Thursday (Dec. 29) at Reese Court will certainly put that advantage to the test.
The Bobcats of Montana State, who returned four All-Big Sky Conference selections from a year ago, are currently atop the league standings with an 8-4 record from the non-conference season. The Bobcats were selected fourth in both Big Sky preseason polls.
Eastern, which currently has the No. 1 scorer in the league in Brianne Ryan and the No. 1 passer in Chene Cooper, was tabbed seventh by the coaches and sixth by the media. After going 6-7 in its pre-conference season, EWU sits in fifth in the standings behind Montana State, Portland State, Idaho State and Northern Colorado.
In the last two seasons, Eastern and MSU met in the Big Sky Conference Championships. In the 2011 edition, EWU topped MSU, 77-68, in the quarterfinals. The Eagles forced 21 turnovers, including five in the final six minutes of the game. The Bobcats had won both of the regular-season games and had upset Eastern in the 2010 Big Sky semis, but EWU had the edge in the most recent meeting.
In the latest NCAA statistical rankings, Montana State ranked in the top 50 in the nation in scoring offense, field goal percentage and 3-point field goals per game. The Bobcats have three players who average 12+ points per game, including the second-leading scorer in the league behind Ryan, Katie Bussey. Bussey, a second-team selection in 2011, contributes 17.0 points per game on 45 percent shooting, and also leads the team in assists with 46 on the season.
As a team, MSU scores an average of 70.0 points per game on 43 percent shooting, which ranks 31st in the nation. The Bobcats' thriving offense can partly be attributed to their ability to take care of the basketball, as their assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.09 ranks 16th among all Division I teams.
Eastern is coming off its most productive offensive outing of the season, and will look to keep that going when it faces the high-powered offense of MSU. In their 15-point win over Idaho on Dec. 21, the Eagles hit a season-high 11 3-pointers, while shooting 50 percent from the field.
The Eagles and Bobcats have played only one common opponent this year in WCC school, Portland. Montana State played the Pilots in the 2011-12 season debut, and won by a score of 66-53. Eastern also beat UP by double-digits, 76-60. Both games were played in Portland.
Montana State leads the all-time series with Eastern by just one game at 36-35. In head coach Wendy Schuller's tenure, the Eagles are 10-21 against MSU, and when playing at Reese Court, the series is tied at 17-17.
News & Notes
Coop Closing in on School Record - Senior point guard Chene Cooper is just two steals away from owning the EWU all-time career steals record. Cooper has tallied 211 total steals at this point in her career - just one shy of Lisa Comstock, who currently holds the record with 212. Comstock played for EWU from 1982-85. Cooper will most likely break the 27-year old record before in Thursday's game against MSU, as she has averaged of 2.8 steals per game this season. She also appears in the Big Sky record book for all-time career steals, ranking 17th in league history. Besides her stellar steals numbers, Cooper is also climbing the charts for assists, as she currently ranks fourth all-time at EWU with 407 career assists. She has the most assists of any active player in the Big Sky by more than 70.
Toughest Schedule in the Sky - According to the Collegiate Basketball News Women's RPI Report released Dec. 26, EWU's strength of schedule earned the highest ranking among all BSC schools. The Eagles ranked 25th out of 335 teams. Only two other Big Sky programs had a strength of schedule ranking in the top 100, and that was Idaho State at No. 64 and Northern Arizona at 88. Eastern has five opponents on its schedule this year that advanced to national postseason tournaments a year ago. The average RPI ranking of Eastern's 2011-12 opponents is 14.
Coop Puts Up National Numbers - Eastern's senior point guard Chene Cooper (Puyallup, Wash.) is among the top five in the nation in assists. Heading into the final game of the 2011 calendar year, the 5-0 point guard is averaging 6.9 assists per game, which ties for the fourth-best among all Division I women's basketball players in the country. Cooper leads the Big Sky in that category by more than two complete assists. The next closest player in the league is averaging 4.8. Cooper is second in the Big Sky in steals, averaging 2.8 per game. That average is among the top 75 nationally, while her assist-to-turnover ratio of 23 ranks 36th.
Ryan Reaches 1,000 - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) scored her 1,000th career point against Arizona State on Dec. 2. Ryan is the only active Eagle to have 1,000+ points in her career, and one of only one of four in the Big Sky Conference. The 5-11 guard has now tallied 1,117 points in her tenure, with 244 already in this young 2011-12 season. She recently broke into the top 10 all-time scorers list at Eastern Washington, and is only 74 points away from surpassing her mom's career points total of 1,190. Neil Ann Ryan (formerly Massie) played for the Eagles from 1979-82.
Pakootas Making an Impact - Sophomore Chenise Pakootas had a career outing in Eastern's most recent contest against Idaho. She scored 14 points and hit a career-high four 3-pointers. Pakootas has appeared in all 13 games for EWU this season, averaging 15.9 minutes per game. She is fourth on the team in scoring and ranks among the top 10 in the Big Sky in terms of 3-point shooters, as she averages 1.5 per game on 43 percent. She hit at least on 3-pointer in the first nine games of the season, and has had two or more in six outings.
Ryan on a Roll - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) has scored in double figures in each of Eastern's first 13 games of the season, which is currently the longest double-digit scoring streak in the Big Sky. She has had six games with 20+ points, and one with 33. She leads the Big Sky Conference in scoring, averaging 18.8 points per game, and is among the top 30 in the nation. She is averaging 2.5 3-pointers per game, which ranks third overall in the Big Sky. She converted a career-high of six 3-pointers against Portland (Nov. 29), and hit 5-of-11 against Boise State (Dec. 17) and 4-of-6 against Idaho (Dec. 21).
Ojeda Has Back-to-Back Career-Highs - Eastern's junior center Carrie Ojeda posted career-high scoring numbers in back-to-back games against Gonzaga (Dec. 9) and Eastern Oregon (Dec. 12). She tallied 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting against the Zags, which was four more than her previous career high of 12, which she had set in this year's season opener. Three days later, she topped it again with 19 points on an 8-of-12 performance from the field against the Mountaineers. Ojeda is currently the third-leading scorer on the team, averaging 9.0 per game.
Keys to a Win - So far this season, there are two glaring statistics to an Eastern Washington win: field goal percentage and halftime score. The Eagles are 6-1 this year when leading at the half, and 6-1 when shooting above 40 percent from the field. When EWU has trailed or been tied at halftime, the team is 0-6. And the same goes for shooting percentage. Every time the Eagles convert less than 40 percent of their shots, regardless of what the opponent does, they have lost the game.
Freshmen on the Floor - Eastern has two freshmen this season who are expected to play significant roles in their rookie seasons. Melissa Williams, a 6-1 forward, has earned a spot in Eastern's starting lineup. The Camas, Wash., native leads the team in defensive rebounding, averaging 3.8 per game. She has had four or more total rebounds in eight of 13 games this year, including a career-high eight on four different occasions. Point guard Kylie Huerta has averaged 9.7 minutes in Eastern's first 13 games of the season, and has tallied 21 assists and six steals. Huerta was an Associated Press 4A All-State Honorable Mention and two-time South Puget Sound League North Division Player of the Year out of Kentwood High School, which is the same school that produced Gonzaga legend and current WNBA star Courtney Vandersloot, as well as Nebraska standout/two-time All-Big 12 honoree, Lindsey Moore. Kentwood is also the alma-mater of EWU men's basketball legend, Rodney Stuckey.
Eagles Impress in Near Upset of Cross-Town Rival Gonzaga - The Eastern Washington University women's basketball was just moments away from pulling off a truly inspiring upset of national power and cross-town rival Gonzaga on Dec. 9 at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash. After completely controlling the first half of the game, the Eagles held on to a one-point lead (69-68) with under a minute remaining. An Eagle rebounding foul sent Naismith Trophy candidate Kayla Standish to the line with 38 ticks left on the clock. The 6-2 forward converted both free throws to give GU a narrow 70-69 edge. On Eastern's next possession, sophomore Chenise Pakootas earned a trip to the line for a chance to tie it up and possibly reclaim the lead, but she missed the front end of her one-and-one, and Standish quickly snatched the rebound. Eastern was forced to put Standish on the line again. She made her first shot, but missed the second to keep the game within a single field goal. But in a fierce battle for the rebound, GU's sophomore guard Haiden Palmer emerged with the ball. She was then fouled, and the mishap occurred when she missed her second free throw, but corralled the offensive board. The Bulldogs went on to make three of their next four shots from the charity stripe to extend their lead to six with nine seconds left to play. Eastern tried to keep the game alive with a desperation three, but the shot was off the mark and Gonzaga came down with the rebound as time expired. Despite being the better team for much of the night, the Eagles returned to Cheney with a heartbreaking 75-69 loss. Gonzaga, the seven-time defending WCC champion, had been in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 Coaches' Poll for the first three weeks of the 2011-12 season.
Coop Claims All-Tournament Honors - Senior point guard Chene Cooper (Puyallup, Wash.) was named to the ASU Classic All-Tournament Team for her efforts in Eastern's two games in Tempe, Ariz., Dec 2-3. In the two games combined, Cooper averaged a combined 12.0 points, 3.5 assists and 3.5 steals. Cooper turned in one of her best performances of the season against Arkansas State, with 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field and a perfect 8-of-8 from the line. She also had four assists and three steals.
Eastern Celebrates Big Win in the Rose City - On Nov. 29, Eastern Washington defeated non-conference rival Portland, 76-60, for its first road win of the 2011-12 season. The Eagles shot a season-high 47.5 percent from the field, while knocking down a season-high nine 3-pointers. Eastern held a 36-32 advantage on the glass and forced 20 turnovers, which they converted into 27 points on the other end. To make this victory any sweeter, prior to facing Eastern, Portland had won back-to-back games against two other Big Sky schools in Portland State and Montana, which were the teams picked one and two in this year's Big Sky Preseason Coaches' Poll. Eastern Washington was selected seventh. Although it was not a head-to-head battle against its conference foes, EWU showed it can certainly measure up with the top dogs in the Big Sky.
Ryan Lays Claim to Big Sky POW - For the first time in her already decorated career, senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) was selected as the Big Sky Player of the Week for games played Nov. 14 - Nov. 20. Ryan had a remarkable performance on both ends of the floor to lead Eastern to a 68-57 victory over San Diego (Nov. 17). Her all-around effort was highlighted by 30 points on 10-of-21 shooting from the floor. She scored nearly half Eastern's total points in the game to become the first player in the Big Sky this season to reach the 30-point scoring mark. Ryan's effort against USD was just three points shy of her career-high of 33, which she set last year versus Sacramento State on 14-of-18 shooting. In addition putting points on the score board, Ryan also led all players on the glass with nine rebounds, and had three assists, one steal and one block, while playing a game-high 38 minutes against the Toreros.
One Night, Three Career-Highs - In Eastern's season opener against Corban (Nov. 11), three different Eagles posted career-high scoring numbers - and ironically, those numbers were the same for each player. Junior Carrie Ojeda and sophomores Laura Hughes and Chenise Pakootas all had 12 tallies against the Warriors. Ojeda and Pakootas have since topped that number though. Ojeda's previous career high was 11 points, while Hughes and Pakootas' was 10. And although it wasn't a career-high, it should be noted that senior Brianne Ryan also scored 12 points against Corban.
Big Numbers for 2011-12 Campaign- At 17 players deep, the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team begins the 2011-12 season with the biggest roster in head coach Wendy Schuller's 11-year tenure. This roster includes three returning starters from 2010-11, six other returning letterwinners, two returning redshirts, one non-lettering squad member, one transfer and four freshmen.
Building Cred in the Big Sky - The Eagles are coming off their second-straight postseason appearance. In 2010, Eastern earned an automatic bid to the Big Sky Conference semifinals after winning the regular-season title. In last year's Big Sky tourney, Eastern advanced the semis again after a 77-68 victory against Montana State in the quarterfinal round, which actually marked the first postseason win for EWU since the 2004 campaign. Eastern has earned 20 Big Sky Conference wins over the past two years, which is more than the Eagles had in the previous four seasons combined. In 2009-10, EWU captured the school's first-ever Big Sky regular-season title with a 12-4 league record.
Academic Excellence - In the past 10 seasons, Eastern Washington women's basketball players have been honored 81 times on the Big Sky All-Academic list, which is the most for any women's basketball team in the league. The Eagles have also been recognized on the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Academic Top 25 Honor Roll for nine of the past 10 seasons. Eastern was among the top five academic teams in the nation in seven of those 10 years, including the 2003-04 campaign, in which the team placed first nationally with a 3.63 cumulative grade point average.
Baby Bonanza - Three of Eastern's four coaches have all had a baby in the last 18 months! Coach Schuller and her husband, Mark, had their third child, Brandon, in June 2010. Assistant coach Alison Hewa had her first child, Hannah, last January, and just a few months after arriving on the EWU campus, assistant coach Steve Lowe welcomed his first child, Harper (born Sept. 25, 2011).