Eastern has three-game winning streak snapped after a poor first-half effort against defending Big Sky champs
After a frustrating first half, the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team turned it around in the final 12 minutes, but it was simply too little too late, as the Eagles fell to Northern Colorado, 56-53, on Saturday (Jan. 14) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
With 12:33 remaining on the game clock, Eastern (10-9, 4-2 Big Sky) was facing an 11-point deficit at 41-30. But after sophomore Aubrey Ashenfelter knocked down her first of two 3-pointers in the half, the Eagles found a much-needed spark. Over the next six and half minutes, EWU forced four turnovers and outscored the Bears, 19-8, which tied the game for the first time at 49-49.
But EWU then missed seven of its next eight field goals, while Northern Colorado (11-7, 3-2 Big Sky) converted two layups and 3-of-4 free throws in the final five minutes. Senior Brianne Ryan hit a 3-pointer to make it a one-possession game with 2:27 to go, but that was the last field Eastern would make, as the Bears held on for the three-point victory.
"I was really frustrated for the first 30 minutes of the game," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "We were way too passive on both ends of the floor. We weren't aggressive, we weren't trapping and we weren't flying around like I know we can. When we finally decided to play the way we're capable of, we produced results. But you can't wait until late in the second half to do those things against a good team like Northern Colorado. You have to play that way all game."
Through the first 20 minutes of Saturday's contest, Eastern shot 26.7 percent from the field, which included a dreadful 1-of-11 effort from 3-point range. The Eagles were out-rebounded 24-16 and allowed UNC to score 18 of its 26 first-half points in the paint.
"We knew what they were going to be like defensively coming into the game," said Schuller. "We put together a game plan and did different things to prepare for that, but we just didn't follow that plan at all in the first half. We were turning the ball over because we were indecisive and we were not being aggressive like we wanted to."
The Eagles, who are now 0-7 this season when trailing at intermission, improved from 26.7 percent shooting in the first half to 39.4 percent in the second. Eastern also had 11 assists with only two turnovers, compared to 12 miscues for UNC. But the Bears continued to dominate down low, as they owned an 18-9 rebounding advantage in the second period and scored another 18 points in the paint, for a total of 36 on the night. The Bears were 11-of-16 from the field for a blistering 68.8 second-half field goal percentage.
"I thought we did a crumby job defending in the post," said Schuller. "Our posts got sealed and were absolutely buried in the paint. It seemed like some of their [Northern Colorado] players were in there for quite a while sometimes, but overall we just have to do a better job of not getting ourselves stuck on their backs the way we did."
Senior point guard Chene Cooper led the Eagles with 15 points, five rebounds, three assists and four steals. Coop, who owns the EWU all-time career steals record at 238, leads the Big Sky in that category, while ranking 16th nationally.
Ryan finished with 12 points and a team-high six rebounds. She also had three assists, two steals and one block, but the league's leading scorer struggled with her shot, converting just 5-of-18 in the game.
Ashenfelter had nine tallies, including two 3-pointers, while sophomore Laura Hughes finished with eight.
The Eagles will be on the road for its next three Big Sky Conference matchups. EWU travels to Portland, Ore., to play Portland State next Saturday (Jan. 21) before heading to the Montana schools the following week.