February 17, 2012

Bears Hand Eagles First Road Loss of Big Sky Season

Eagles have six-game winning streak snapped after scoring just 49 points on a season-low 46 attempts from the field

For the first time in the 2011-12 Big Sky season, the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team will not be smiling on its trip back to Cheney. The Eagles lost to Northern Colorado, 56-49, on Thursday (Feb. 16) at the Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion in Greeley, Colo. Eastern had won all six of its previous six Big Sky road games this season.

Eastern (16-10, 10-3), which had won six games in a row coming into Thursday's contest, remains in second place in the Big Sky standings. The Eagles are now a game and a half behind conference-leading Idaho State (19-6, 11-1). The Eagles and Bengals will face-off in the final two games of the season on Feb. 25 in Cheney and Mar. 3 in Pocatello, Idaho.

Both EWU and ISU, as well as Northern Colorado, Montana State and Montana, have already clinched bids to the 2012 Big Sky Conference tournament, held March 8-10 at the site of the regular-season champion.

In beating Eastern on Thursday, the Bears earned their second-consecutive regular-season sweep of EWU. With a merciless defense, Northern Colorado managed to hold the Eagles to 20 points below their season average. Eastern, which has averaged 69.3 points per game this year, made just 19 field goals on a season-low 46 attempts.

"It was a tough, physical game," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "But if the game is going to be played that way, we have to be able to respond. Offensively, we didn't show the confidence we needed to beat a team like that. It is hard to win a game scoring 21 points in the second half, so that is on us."

Although Eastern did trail for the final eight minutes of the contest, the team certainly had its chances to take control. The Bears never led by more than five points in the second half, but missed opportunities down the stretch allowed the home team to eek out another win against the Red and White.

"I thought we battled really hard on the defensive end most of the game," said Schuller. "But we had some breakdowns late that were pretty costly."

With just under two minutes remaining, junior Carrie Ojeda hit a pair of free throws to pull Eastern within two at 51-49. The Bears and Eagles traded turnovers on their next possessions which took nearly a minute off the clock. Coming out of a timeout, UNC missed a jumper, but Eastern failed to corral the defensive rebound, and the Bears reset with a new shot clock.

Senior Chene Cooper committed a foul midway through the possession, which sent UNC's junior guard Victoria Timm to the line. But before Timm was able to get her first shot off, Eastern Washington was charged with a technical foul, giving the Bears two more free chances to extend their lead.

Senior forward Kaisha Brown took the free throws for UNC, but made just one of two. Timm then missed the front end of her one-and-one opportunity, but again, Northern Colorado came down with an offensive board. Eastern was forced to foul, but luckily Timm missed both of her ensuing attempts and this time, Ojeda snatched the rebound.

With less than 30 seconds to play, Eastern tried to find their best shooter in Brianne Ryan, but the Bears were all over it and forced the senior to throw up an off-balance shot. Northern Colorado went on to make 4-of-4 free throws in the final 10 seconds to ice the win on its home court.

Ryan was the only Eagle to score in double figures, as she finished with 16 points on a 7-of-15 effort from the floor. Sophomore Chenise Pakootas had nine tallies on three made 3-pointers, while Cooper and sophomore center Laura Hughes chipped in five apiece. Cooper also had five assists and five steals.

The Eagles will be off for a week before they return to Reese Court to face Portland State on Thursday (Feb. 23). After wrapping up the regular-season series with the Vikings, the Eagles will play Idaho State on Saturday (Feb. 25) in what is arguably the most anticipated matchup of the season.

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