January 26, 2012

Eagles Avenge Earlier Loss to Lady Griz and Keep Perfect Big Sky Road Record Intact with 67-57 Win in Missoula

Led by 18 points and nine assists from its senior point guard, Eastern wins second-straight game at Dahlberg Arena

After 27 trips to Dahlberg Arena without a win, the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team has now done it two years in a row. Thanks to an all-around team effort, the Eagles knocked off Montana, 67-57, on Thursday (Jan. 26) in Missoula.

With the win, the Eagles improve to 12-9 on the season and 6-2 in league play, which includes a perfect 4-0 road record in the 2011-12 Big Sky season. Montana drops to 11-9 overall and 4-3 in conference.

In winning the game Thursday, the Eagles did something no other team in school history has done - win two-straight games at Dahlberg Arena. Last season, the Eagles also beat the Lady Griz on its home floor, 71-63.

Prior to the 2010-11 season, the Eagles had not won in Missoula since 1987, when they upset the Lady Griz in the Mountain West Conference championship game to earn the school's first and only automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Eastern had not won a regular-season game at Dahlberg since 1980. But now, the Eags have done it two years in a row.

In addition to making school history, EWU avenged a home loss to Montana from earlier in the Big Sky season. In that meeting on Jan. 2, the Eagles struggled tremendously to shoot the ball. But in the rematch, Eastern's offense thrived.

The Eagles shot 45 percent from the field, and knocked down 7-of-12 3-pointers. Three different players scored in double figures, as Eastern put up a total of 21 more points than it had in the first matchup.

Although it was a good night for the Eags offensively, it was even better on the defensive end.

"It all started with defense," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "We did a lot of good things with our press, and did a great job keeping the ball out of the post. We were communicating well on that end of the floor, and just had a good, strong effort from everyone."

Eastern held the Lady Griz to 35 percent shooting from the floor, and just 6-of-21 from long range, but three of those six were desperation threes in final minutes of the game.

Montana scored just 20 points in the first half on eight made baskets. At one point in the first period, EWU had earned an 18-point advantage. Montana was able to cut that deficit to 12 before intermission after it converted its final three shots of the half.

Eastern held a 10-point cushion for most of the second period, but Montana did threaten a few times down the stretch. The home team nailed back-to-back 3-pointers at 4:55 and 4:09, but that did little to shift the momentum because Eastern's senior point guard Chene Cooper answered both baskets with four points of her own.

"Coop had an outstanding night," said Schuller. "She was just solid all-around. Late in the game, when Montana was threatening to dig into our lead, she stepped up and made some really big shots for us ."

The 5-foot-0 point guard finished with a season-high 18 points to go along with nine assists. She also contributed five rebounds, and had just one turnover in 37 minutes on the floor.

In the final 90 seconds of the game, Montana again hit back-to-back 3-pointers to pull within four at 58-54. But with so little time left on the clock, the home team was forced to foul. Cooper hit 7-of-8 attempts from the free throw line, while junior center Carrie Ojeda knocked down 2-of-3, to keep the game just out of reach for the Lady Griz.

Ojeda, the reigning Big Sky Player of the Week, tallied 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds.

Senior captain Brianne Ryan finished with 15 points, five rebounds, one assist and one steal. Ryan hit two 3-pointers in the contest, as did sophomores Aubrey Ashenfelter and Chenise Pakootas.

"This was the second game in a row now we've played great team basketball," said Schuller. "It was one of those nights where everyone on the team had a part in making it happen."

The Eagles will now try for another program first when it plays at Montana State on Saturday (Jan. 28). Since becoming a member of Division I athletics in 1983-84, Eastern Washington has never swept a Montana road trip. Tipoff from Worthington Arena in Bozeman is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. Pacific time.

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