Since losing to Northern Colorado at home on Jan. 14, Eastern has won six-consecutive games, including four on the road
The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team enters the week as the hottest team in the Big Sky Conference. The Eagles have won six games in a row, including four on the road. But its upcoming opponent is the one responsible for one of only two blemishes on EWU's league record this year. With retribution on its mind, Eastern will play Northern Colorado this Thursday (Feb. 16) at the Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion in Greeley, Colo.
The Bears won the first meeting of the regular-season series on Jan. 14 in Cheney by a score of 56-53. Eastern has not lost a game since then.
Both EWU and UNC have already clinched bids to the 2012 Big Sky Conference Championships, held March 8-10 at the site of the regular-season champion. Eastern, along with current league leader Idaho State, are the front runners for that coveted crown. The Eagles (16-9, 10-2) are just one game behind ISU (19-6, 11-1) in the conference standings. The Eagles and Bengals will not face-off though until the final two games of the season on Feb. 25 in Cheney and Mar. 3 in Pocatello, Idaho.
But all the focus right now is on Northern Colorado, and keeping a perfect Big Sky road record intact. Eastern is 6-0 this year in conference road games, but the Eagles have only won once in its last five trips to Greeley.
In order to continue its current winning streak, EWU will have to find a way to score against one of the top defenses in the league. Putting points on the board was certainly the Achilles heel in the first meeting of the year in Cheney.
"The No. 1 thing we have to do a lot better is score," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "We have to find a way to get good shots, get to the free throw line and score both inside and out. Northern Colorado has great size. They are just a big team across the board. They are able to switch a lot of screens, and when you can do that, you put yourself in a pretty good position defensively. You are able to contest a lot of shots and really stay in between your man and the basket. Northern Colorado does a very good job with that."
In order to combat UNC's defensive prowess, the Eagles will try to push the tempo and score in transition as much as possible.
"It is going to be two conflicting styles getting after it on Thursday," said Schuller. "Northern Colorado will try to keep the game at a slower pace than what we prefer. They like to have games in the 50s, whereas we would rather have it in the 70s and 80s. We are really going to stress getting up and down, and finding those opportunities in transition."
Defensively, Eastern will have to find a way to stop UNC's post players, who combined for 38 of the team's 56 points in the Jan. 14 meeting.
"Their posts dominated us," said Schuller. "We absolutely have to do a better job of defending inside, because they have a couple bigs who will fight hard for position and know how to finish."
Northern Colorado is coming off a split of the Montana road trip last weekend. The Bears lost for the second time this season to Montana State, but then edged Montana in overtime to get the regular-season sweep against the Lady Griz.
Eastern swept its series with Montana State, while splitting with Montana.
News & Notes
Big Sky Tourney Field Nearly Set - In winning its ninth conference game on Feb. 4 at Sacramento State, Eastern Washington became the first team in the Big Sky to clinch a bid to the 2012 conference championship, held March 8-10 at the site of the regular-season champion. Four other teams, including Idaho State, Northern Colorado, Montana and Montana State have also clinched. Portland State and Sac State are the two teams fighting for that final spot.
Eagles On a Roll - Eastern Washington has won its last six games in a row, nine of its last 10 and 11 of the last 13. The Eagles boast a flawless 6-0 Big Sky road record, which ties the school record for the most league road wins in a single season. In the current six-game winning streak, EWU has out-scored its opponents by nearly 100 points (460-363), while averaging 45.7 percent from the floor. EWU has held its opponents to 37.9 percent shooting. The Eagles have already swept the regular-season series with Montana State, Northern Arizona, Sacramento State and Weber State.
Onslaught of Honors - For four-consecutive weeks, an Eastern Washington women's basketball player has received the Big Sky Player of the Week honor, and for the first three weeks, it went to a different player. Senior Brianne Ryan repeated this week as the Big Sky POW after being selected as the Co-POW with Montana State's Katie Bussey on Jan. 6. She earned the most recent accolade after leading EWU to a 78-45 rout of Weber State, which was Eastern's largest margin of victory against a Division I progam this season. Ryan poured in a career-high-tying 33 points - her fourth 30+ outing of the season. She was 13-of-20 from the field, including a nearly perfect 5-of-6 effort from 3-point range. She also grabbed five rebounds and had a game-high five steals in just 29 minutes on the floor. Along with being named POW by the conference office, Ryan was also recognized with the same award by College Sports Madness. Last week, in Eastern's two wins against NAU at home and Sac State on the road, Ryan averaged 27.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. She had 29 points against NAU with three 3-pointers, followed by a 26-point effort at Sac, which included a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Prior to Ryan's back-to-back honors, senior Chene Cooper was selected as the POW after leading the Eagles to a sweep of the Montana road trip for the first time since becoming a member of Division I athletics in 1983-84. The 5-foot-0 point guard averaged 15.5 points, 8.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds. Against perennial power Montana, Cooper was sensational with a game-high 18 points, nine assists and only one turnover in 37 minutes on the floor. On Jan. 23, junior Carrie Ojeda earned her first-career POW honor after leading EWU to an important win on the road against defending Big Sky regular-season champion, and preseason favorite, Portland State. The 6-1 center posted her fourth double-double of the season with 18 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. She was 9-of-14 from the floor, while also contributing three blocks, one assist and one steal.
Ryan Also Recognized for Role in Montana Sweep - After leading Eastern in its historic sweep of the Montana road trip, senior point guard Chene Cooper was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week by the league office, but fellow senior Brianne Ryan received the same honor by College Sports Madness. Ryan averaged 18.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in the sweep. On Thursday at Dahlberg, Ryan posted 15 points with two 3-pointers, and had five rebounds, one assist and one block. Against the Bobcats, Ryan poured in a game-high 22 points on a 9-of-16 effort from the floor, including two more 3-pointers. She was two rebounds shy of a double-double, as she finished with eight on the night. In addition to leading her team offensively, Ryan also had the job of guarding Montana State's leading scorer. She held senior guard Katie Bussey, who ranks second in the Big Sky in scoring, to just four points on 2-of-10 from the field. In Montana State's very next game against ISU, Bussey went off for 41 points.
Coop Puts Up National Numbers - Senior Chene Cooper (Puyallup, Wash.) currently ranks fifth in the nation in assists, averaging 7.2 per game. She is one of only five Division I women's basketball players across the country that average seven or more assists per game. The 5-foot-0 point guard has been among the top 10 in that category every week of the 2011-12 campaign. She leads all players in the Big Sky by nearly three complete assists. In addition to her season average, she also has the most career assists of any active player in the league by more than 100. She is currently second in the EWU all-time career record book with 498, and is seventh in Big Sky history. Coop is also among the best in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. With 181 assists and only 78 turnovers this season, she ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky and 11th among all players in Division I.
Disruptive Defense - Eastern Washington is one of the top 20 teams in the nation in steals, and top 50 in turnover margin. The Eagles have had at least 10 steals in 16 different games this season, including eight games with 15 or more. Three different Eagles rank among the top 15 in the Big Sky in steals, including Chene Cooper, who leads the league outright and is 20th in the nation. In seven of 12 conference games, EWU has forced 20 or more turnovers, with at least 12 steals in each of those contests. In its Big Sky opener against Montana State (Dec. 29), EWU grabbed a school-record 22 steals. MSU ended up with 28 total turnovers in that game. At Northern Arizona (Jan. 7), the Eagles forced 31 turnovers - the second-most miscues for any team in the Big Sky this season. At home against Sac State (Jan. 12), the Eagles forced 27 turnovers and the next night versus Northern Colorado (Jan. 14), EWU forced 24. Eastern's +4.1 turnover margin in conference play is the best in the Big Sky.
Presence in the Paint - Eastern's junior center Carrie Ojeda (Tacoma, Wash.) has become a big time post player for EWU. She is currently the leading rebounder (6.8/game), the third-leading scorer on the team (10.2/game) and owns the top field goal percentage among starters at 46.6 She has been even better in conference play, averaging 12.6 points and 8.1 rebounds. Ojeda is the best shot blocker in the Big Sky, averaging 1.9 per game. She has set or matched a career-high scoring mark in five different outings this year. She posted a career-high 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting in Eastern's win at Northern Arizona (Jan. 7). Prior to that, she twice set a career-high of 19 points against Montana State (Dec. 29) and Eastern Oregon (Dec. 12). In Eastern's win at Portland State (Jan. 21), Ojeda made a career-high nine field goals to finish with a team-high 18 points, which propelled EWU to the important 75-67 on the road.
Ryan Scores 30...Again - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) registered a season and career-high-tying 33 points against Weber State (Feb. 9) for her fourth 30+ scoring effort of the season. Only two other players in the Big Sky have hit the 30-point mark this season, and no one besides Ryan has done it more than once. She has scored in double figures in all 25 games of the 2011-12 season, which is currently the longest running streak in the Big Sky. In 12 of those 25 games, Ryan has poured in 20 or more points - the most 20+ scoring efforts of any Big Sky player this season.
Composing a Symphony - The Eastern Washington women's basketball team has had an extremely successful month with nine wins in its last 10 outings. Head coach Wendy Schuller says the team has witnessed such success because of a cohesive team effort. "We are playing great team basketball," said Schuller. "We are really figuring out what each other does well. We had talked the other day about a symphony, and how not everyone can sing the same note and in the same pitch and expect to make beautiful music. I think everyone on our team is contributing what they can, and we are learning how to get the right people the ball in the spots where they can do good things, and that is lending a lot to our success. Defensively, it is kind of the same thing. We are helping each other out and communicating well. Our defense gets our offense going, and vice versa. When you're shooting the ball well, it definitely gives you energy on the other end of the floor."
Ryan and Coop Join 1,000-Point Club - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) scored her 1,000th career point against Arizona State on Dec. 2, and senior Chene Cooper accomplished the same feat against Montana State on Jan. 28. Ryan and Coop are two of only eight players in the Big Sky Conference to reach the career milestone.
Keys to a Win - For the 2011-12 Eagles, there seems to be a couple statistics that prove more important than others when it comes to winning a game. This season, the Eagles are 14-1 when leading at the half, and 15-1 when shooting above 40 percent from the field. Eastern has won only one of eight games in which it trailed at halftime, and that was at Portland State when it trailed by just one single point (28-27) at intermission. The Eagles have also won just one of nine games in which they've shot below 40 percent from the field. In its 16 victories this season, EWU has shot an average of 44.3 percent from the field. In the nine games lost, the Eags are converting 34.7 percent of their shots.
Eagles Discover Depth - This season, six different players on the EWU roster have led the team in scoring at least once, and seven in rebounding. In a 78-62 rout of Sacramento State (Jan. 12), five different players scored in double figures, which was the first time all season the Eags had five players with 10 or more points in a single game. Head coach Wendy Schuller put 14 different players into the game, and 11 of those 14 scored at least two points. Ten different Eagles had at least one assist and at least one rebound, and eight separate players had one or more steals. Sophomore Laura Hughes led the Eagles in scoring with a career-high 14 points, She also had a career-high 11 rebounds for the first double-double of her career.
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 the previous career record of 212, held by Lisa Comstock, who played from 1982-85. Along with owning the top mark in EWU history, which has since improved to 249, Cooper also appears in the Big Sky record book for all-time career steals, ranking seventh 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.
Mother-Daughter Milestone - Senior Brianne Ryan scored 32 points against Weber State (Jan. 5), and in doing so, finally surpassed her mother on EWU's all-time career scoring list. Ryan now ranks third in the EWU record book with 1,369 career points. Her mother, Neil Ann Ryan (formerly Massie), is ninth with 1,190. Neil Ann played for Eastern from 1979-82. She is also one of only three players in EWU history to notch 1,000+ rebounds, as well as 1,000+ points. Neil Ann ranks third in EWU history for career rebounds with 1,008.
3-Point Threats - Senior Brianne Ryan has hit at least one 3-pointer in 24 of 25 game this season, and has had three or more on 11 different occasions. She drained a career-high six against Portland (Nov. 29) and had five against Boise State (Dec. 17), Montana State (Dec. 29) and in Eastern's most recent outing against Weber State (Feb. 9). She is averaging 2.5 per game, which is third in Big Sky statistics and is among the top 40 nationally. In her career, Ryan has hit 134 3-pointers, which ranks fifth in the EWU record book. Sophomore guard Chenise Pakootas has also become a major scoring threat for EWU, especially from beyond the arc. She ranks among the top 15 in the Big Sky in both 3-point field goal percentage and 3-point field goal average. She is averaging 1.2 3-pointers per game on a 41.8 percentage, which is the top percentage among all players in the league. Pakootas had a career outing in Eastern's final non-conference game against Idaho, scoring 14 points with a career-high four 3-pointers.
Freshmen on the Floor - Eastern has two freshmen who are making significant contributions in their rookie seasons. Melissa Williams, a 6-1 forward, has earned a spot in Eastern's starting lineup in every game of the year. The Camas, Wash., native averages 5.6 rebounds per game to rank third on the squad. She has had four or more total rebounds in 19 of 25 games this year, including a career-high nine against Montana (Jan. 2) and again at Sac State (Feb. 4). Point guard Kylie Huerta, who averages 8.1 minutes per game, has tallied 36 points and 29 assists. 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. But 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. In a fierce battle for the rebound after the missed free throw, GU's sophomore guard Haiden Palmer emerged with the ball. She was then fouled, and a similar mishap occurred when she missed her second free throw, but then 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, has been in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 Coaches' Poll for eight of nine weeks in 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.
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. In addition to 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.
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).