Following finals week, Eastern will face another stern test in annual meeting with cross-town rival
Although back in Spokane County, the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team is not officially home yet. The Eagles play at Gonzaga this Friday (Dec. 9) at 6 p.m. to wrap up a five-game road swing that included two other WCC opponents and one from the Pac-12.
Following Friday's contest at the McCarthey Center in Spokane, Eastern will return to the familiar confines of Reese Court for a game against Eastern Oregon on Monday (Dec. 12).
Eastern is 4-4 heading into the matchups this week. The Bulldogs, who just dropped out of the Top 25 poll this week, will come in with a 5-2 overall record.
"We know Gonzaga is extremely skilled," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "They have oodles of talent at every position. But hopefully, we can draw on our experiences from playing two Pac-12 schools and a couple other WCC teams. We hope those games have prepared us because GU is a great team with some really, really special players."
Before dropping its most recent contest to USC, the Bulldogs had won four games in a row against quality opponents, including the Big Sky's preseason favorite, Portland State. Gonzaga hammered the Vikings at the McCarthey Center, 99-69.
"We've certainly had some competitive games up to this point, but this game is a little different for us because of the proximity of our schools. I don't know if we're their rival, but we kind of feel like cross-town rivals in a way. Gonzaga has set the standard for women's basketball in this region. This will be a great opportunity for us to play somewhere like McCarthey, where we know it will be electric. For us, we just have to go out and play the best we can."
Eastern is 4-12 when playing on the GU campus, with its last win coming in 2000 when EWU topped the Zags by narrow 59-57 margin. The Eagles also beat Gonzaga in 2004 in a matchup at the "neutral" Spokane Arena. Eastern prevailed in overtime in that game, 72-69. But since then, Gonzaga has won seven-straight against the Eags.
Last year, in the meeting in Cheney, GU shot 63 percent from the field and 46 from 3-point range to top Eastern, 101-74. Former Zag Courtney Vandersloot scored 33 points in that contest on 12-of-17 shooting. Although Vandersloot has since graduated to the WBNA, Gonzaga returned two other stars who are both averaging double digits this season.
Senior forward Kayla Standish contributes 18.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, while senior guard/forward Katelan Redmon chips in 11.3 points per game on 51 percent shooting from the field.
As a team, Gonzaga ranks among the top 25 in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 78.1 points per game. Its team field goal percentage of 45.3 is 21st nationally, while its assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.8 is the 10th-best in Division I women's basketball.
After battling the nationally-ranked Zags, EWU will host Eastern Oregon on Monday. Although the Mountaineers are not in the NCAA Division I ranks, they are certainly one of the best in the NAIA. After a 7-3 start to the 2011-12 campaign, Eastern Oregon cracked the NAIA Division II Top 10 poll for the first time in school history.
Eastern Oregon competes in the Cascade Collegiate Conference, which is the same league as Corban - a team EWU beat earlier this year by a score of 89-54.
The Mountaineers are led this season by junior forward Korrie Bourn, who averages 10.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Eastern has played EOU one other time in Schuller's 11-year tenure, and that was a lopsided 72-46 victory for the Eags at Reese Court in 2008.
News & Notes
Toughest Schedule in the Sky - Eastern Washington has earned the highest RPI ranking among all teams in the Big Sky Conference. According to the Collegiate Basketball News Women's RPI Report released Dec. 5, EWU ranks 62nd in the nation, while its strength of schedule is 15th among 335 ranked schools. Only one other Big Sky program was ranked in the top 100 in the RPI, and that was Montana State at No. 99. In terms of strength of schedule, Sacramento State is the only other team in the top 100, as the Hornets come in 58th. 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 22.
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 four active players in the entire Big Sky Conference. The 5-11 guard has now tallied 1,023 points in her tenure, with 150 already notched in the young 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.
Coop Puts up National Numbers - After the first month of the 2011-12 season, senior Chene Cooper (Puyallup, Wash.) ranks among the top 25 in the nation in assists. The 5-0 point guard is averaging 5.6 assists per game, which also ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky Conference. The next closest player to Coop in the Big Sky is averaging nearly one and a half less at 4.3. Cooper also leads the league in steals, averaging 2.9 per game. That average is among the top 60 in Division I women's basketball. With these numbers, Cooper is also climbing up the EWU career record book. She currently ranks sixth in assists with 362, and second all-time in steals with 197. Last season, Cooper had similar success, as she ranked in the top 30 in the nation in assists per game for 14 of the 18 weeks of the season, and was second in the conference in both assists and steals.
Ryan on a Roll - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) has scored in double figures in each of Eastern's first eight games of the season, and she has had four games with 20+ points. With an 18.8 points per game average, Ryan currently ranks second in the Big Sky in scoring, and among the top 40 in the nation. She is averaging 2.3 3-pointers per game, which ranks fourth overall in the Big Sky. She converted a career-high of six 3-pointers against Portland (Nov. 29), and has had at least one in seven of eight games this season.
Keys to a Win - So far this season, there are two glaring keys to an Eastern Washington win. The Eagles are 4-0 this year when leading at the half, and when they shoot above 40 percent from the field. When EWU has trailed at halftime, the team is 0-4. And the same goes for shooting percentage, for every time the Eagles convert less than 40 percent of their shots, regardless of what the opponent does, they have lost the game.
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.
No Nail-Biters So Far - Eastern Washington has yet to play a game this season decided by less than 10 points. The margin of victory in all eight of EWU's games has been double digits. The closest contest for the Eags was an 11-point win over San Diego on Nov. 17. Eastern has also celebrated a 21-point win over Arkansas State and a 35-point victory against Corban it the season opener. On the other side though, EWU has lost two games by 10 or more and two others by at least 20.
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.
Pakootas Making an Impact - Sophomore Chenise Pakootas has appeared in all eight games for EWU this season, averaging 15.0 minutes per game. She is fourth on the team in scoring and ranks among the top 12 in the Big Sky in terms of 3-point shooters, as she averages 1.4 per game on 41 percent shooting. She has hit at least on 3-pointer in every game of the season. Pakootas turned in a flawless offensive performance in Eastern's 68-57 victory against San Diego (Nov. 17), as she was 3-of-3 from the field and converted 2-of-2 free throws.
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. Williams has had at least one block in the last four games, including a career-high four against BYU. She averages 1.2 blocks per game on the season, which ranks eighth overall in the conference. Point guard Kylie Huerta has averaged 11.5 minutes in Eastern's first five games of the season, and has tallied 16 assists and four 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.
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'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).