Looking for a Perfect Start to the Big Sky Season, Eagles Play Lady Griz Monday at Reese Court

After an inspiring win against the Bobcats, Eastern aims for a rare win against defending Big Sky tournament champs


Upcoming Games/Coverage

EWU vs. Montana
Monday, Jan. 2 | 6:05 p.m. PST
Reese Court | Cheney, Wash.
Live Video | Live Stats

It hasn't happened a lot in Eastern Washington University women's basketball history. But with Eagles on a roll, playing some of their best basketball of the season, it seems the odds are in their favor.

Marking the 80th meeting in history, the Eagles host Big Sky powerhouse Montana on Monday (Jan. 2) at 6:05 p.m. at Reese Court. Eastern has only won 13 of 79 games played against the Lady Griz all-time, and only three in head coach Wendy Schuller's 11-year tenure.

But Eastern will enter this matchup on a two-game winning streak, which includes an impressive 79-73 victory on Thursday against Montana State in the Big Sky opener. The Eagles forced 28 turnovers and had a school-record 22 steals to knock off the Bobcats, who were picked fourth in both Big Sky preseason polls. Eastern was selected seventh by the coaches and sixth by media.

Montana currently owns a 6-6 record in the 2011-12 campaign, and will have another win or loss come Monday, as it has one final non-conference game Friday against North Dakota.

The Lady Griz, who have won 22 Big Sky regular-season titles and 19 tournament crowns, were selected second in this year's preseason coaches' poll and third by the media. Montana returns three starters, but just one All-Big Sky Conference player in junior forward Katie Baker. Baker averages 13.4 points per game on 44 percent shooting.

As a team, Montana is not known for having a high-powered offense. The Lady Griz average just 61.4 points per game on 36 percent shooting, which ranks last in the Big Sky Conference. But lack of scoring has never been an issue for the Lady Griz.

As is the case most years, Montana boasts the No. 1 scoring defense in the Big Sky and the No. 3 field goal percentage defense. This season, its opponents have averaged just 58.6 points per game on 37 percent shooting.

Eastern, which tends to operate at a much faster pace than the Lady Griz, have averaged 67.9 points per game this season, and are currently third in field goal percentage. The Eagles score a lot of those points in transition, so finding a way to execute their up-and-down style of play against an unyielding Montana defense will be key.

The Eagles and Lady Griz have played three common opponents this season in Idaho, Gonzaga and Portland. Both EWU and Montana beat the Vandals, although Eastern did it more convincingly with a 16-point victory, as opposed to seven for the Lady Griz. Eastern and Montana both lost to GU, but again, Eastern was the more competitive team. And in the matchup with the Pilots, Montana lost by 11 points, while EWU won the game on the road by a comfortable 16-point margin.  

News & Notes

Coop Sets Career and Single-Game Steals Record - In Eastern's 2011-12 Big Sky Conference opener against Montana State (Dec. 29), senior point guard Chene Cooper broke EWU's 27-year-old career steals record and tied the school's single-game steals record set on six different occasions. Cooper had seven steals against the Bobcats, which improved her career total to 218. She surpassed surpassed the previous career record of 212, held by Lisa Comstock, who played from 1982-85. Along with owning the top mark in EWU history, Cooper also appears in the Big Sky record book for all-time career steals, ranking 13th in league history.

Eagles Break 32-Year-Old School Record - As a team, Eastern Washington tallied 22 steals in its Big Sky opener against Montana State (Dec. 29), and in doing so, broke a school record that had stood for 32 years. The previous team single-game steals record of 21 was set on Feb. 10, 1979 when the 1978-79 Eagle squad played Northwest Nazarene. Against the Bobcats on Dec. 29, 2011,  eight of 10 players who entered the game had at least one steal, while four players had three or more. Montana State committed 28 total turnovers in the game - the most by an EWU opponent this season.

Coop Puts Up National Numbers - Senior Chene Cooper (Puyallup, Wash.) is among the top five players in the nation in assists. The 5-0 point guard is averaging 7.2 assists per game, which according to the latest NCAA statistical ranking summary, ranks as the third-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 5.1. Cooper has the most assists of any active player in the Big Sky by more than 70, and currently ranks third in the EWU all-time career record book with 418. Coopers assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.4 ranks 24th in the nation.

Ryan on a Roll - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) has scored in double figures in each of Eastern's first 14 games of the season, which is currently the longest double-digit scoring streak in the Big Sky. She owns the top two offensive performances of all players in the league this season, and her overall scoring average of 19.6 points per game is the best by more than two points. Ryan She has had seven games with 20+ points and two with 30 or more, including the a season-best 31 against Montana State (Dec. 29), in which she converted 12-of-23 attempts from the floor with five 3-pointers. Ryan averages 2.6 3-pointers per game, which is the third-best average 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 Montana State (Dec. 29). She is among the top 25 scorers in the nation.

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.

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 1,148 points in her tenure, with 275 coming this season. She recently broke into the top 10 all-time scorers list at Eastern Washington, and is only 53 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.

Presence in the Paint - Eastern's junior center Carrie Ojeda has become a big time post player for EWU. She is currently the third-leading scorer on the team, averaging 9.4 points per game, but owns the best field goal percentage at 46.8. She is also the leading rebounder on the squad with an average of 5.7 per game. She has set or matched a career-high scoring mark in four different outings already this year. She tied her career-high of 19 points in Eastern's Big Sky debut against Montana State (Dec. 29), as she was 7-of-11 from the field and 5-of-5 from the free throw line, including two clutch free throws with less than a minute remaining. She also had 19 points against Eastern Oregon (Dec. 12)on an 8-of-12 effort from the field.

Pakootas Making an Impact - Sophomore Chenise Pakootas had a career outing in Eastern's final non-conference game 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 1.4 per game on 39 percent. She hit at least one 3-pointer in the first nine games of the season, and has had two or more in six outings.

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 7-1 this year when leading at the half, and 7-1 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 nine of 14 games this year, including a career-high eight on four different occasions. Point guard Kylie Huerta has averaged 9.4 minutes in Eastern's first 14 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.

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).

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