Eagles Can't Hold On in Final Minute; Fall to Zags, 75-69

Cooper leads Eagles in near upset of cross-town rival, as the senior point guard flirts with a triple-double

The Eastern Washington University women's basketball was just moments away from pulling off a truly inspiring upset on Friday (Dec. 9) at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash., but in the final 40 seconds, the Bulldogs of Gonzaga pulled away to hand EWU a heartbreaking 75-69 loss.

With 2:38 remaining on the game clock, Eastern (4-4) held a one-point advantage on the highly-favored Bulldogs at 69-68. Gonzaga then missed back-to-back shots, but an Eagle rebounding foul sent Naismith Trophy candidate Kayla Standish to the line. 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 take the lead, but she missed the front end of her one-and-one, and Standish quickly snatched the rebound. With just 19 ticks remaining, 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.

Moments later, a similar mishap occurred for Eastern when Palmer missed her second free throw, but was able to coral another 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.

"We played as hard as we could," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "I thought our effort was tremendous. Our kids played extremely hard, like we expect them to every time they step on the floor. We laid it out there tonight, but we were outplayed in the last 40 seconds."

For the first three weeks of the 2011-12 season, Gonzaga was ranked in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 Coaches' Poll. The Zags, who have won seven-straight WCC titles, dropped out in the most recent poll, but were still receiving multiple votes. Last season, the Bulldogs advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship.

"Gonzaga is a great basketball team," said Schuller. "They have garnered a lot of media attention, and deservedly so. But I've known for awhile there is also a pretty good team out in Cheney. We are growing and getting better every day, and tonight, we certainly showed we can play. Having a crowd of 5,300 fans screaming and yelling probably had a lot to do with us missing a free throw with 20 seconds to go. It would be great to have a crowd like we saw tonight supporting us in Cheney and giving us that home-court advantage. That would be huge."

The first half at the McCarthey Center was all Eastern, as the visiting Eags shot 52 percent from the field, including a sizzling 5-of-8 from 3-point range. EWU held Gonzaga to just 37 percent shooting in the first period, while the Bulldogs managed to knock down just two of its 12 attempts from long range.

The only time Gonzaga led in the entire first half was in the opening minute at 2-0 and 4-2. The Eagles earned their first lead at the 18:27 mark on a fast-break layup from Chene Cooper to Brianne Ryan, and they continued to control the pace for the remaining 18 minutes.

Eastern opened up its largest lead of the half just before the third media timeout after a 10-4 run gave the Eags a 31-22 edge.

Heading into the locker room, Eastern enjoyed a six-point lead on the Bulldogs. Leading up to this game, EWU was 4-0 in games where it had led at the half.

Cooper was a major reason EWU had success in the first period, as she dominated the halftime box with 11 points, five rebounds and seven assists.

The 5-0 point guard was just two rebounds shy of a triple-double at the end of the game, as she finished with 16 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.

Gonzaga opened the second half on a 12-3 run, but the Bulldogs never held more than a three-point lead until those final seconds of the game. Eastern found a way to keep Gonzaga at bay despite the advantage of 5,378 screaming fans.

Tonight's contest was the first time this season EWU has lost  after recording a higher field goal percentage than its opponent. The Eagles shot 44 percent, compared to 39.7 for GU. Eastern also hit 7-of-15 3-pointers, while holding the Bulldogs to just 5-of-19 from beyond the arc.

Eastern also out-rebounded Gonzaga on the defensive end, 28-22, but the Bulldogs made up for it on the offensive glass with a 20-10 advantage, which included four in the final minute.

Eastern's junior center Carrie Ojeda was quite impressive, as she finished with a career-high 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting, and had six rebounds. She also held Standish, who came into the night averaging 18.3 points per game on 48 percent shooting, to just 2-of-9 from the field.

Senior Brianne Ryan was the third Eagle in double figures, as she tallied 14 points with three 3-pointers. Ryan also registered five rebounds and a career-high five steals.

Eastern will now return home to take on Eastern Oregon, a school out of the NAIA's Cascade Collegiate Conference, on Monday (Dec. 12) at 6 p.m. at Reese Court.

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