Eagles Play at Montana State Saturday in Battle for Second Place in the Sky
After taking care of business in Missoula, Eastern aims for school's first-ever road sweep of the Montanas since becoming Division I
When the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team plays Montana State on Saturday (Jan. 28) in Bozeman, Mont., it will be trying for a program first. Since becoming a member of Division I athletics in 1983-84, Eastern Washington has never swept a Montana road trip. But with the first one out of the way - a 67-57 win last night at Montana - the Eagles are now playing with house money.
Both Eastern and MSU enter the game with a 6-2 Big Sky record - one and a half games behind league leader, Idaho State (7-0). Whichever team wins the contest Saturday, will take sole possession of second place in the Big Sky standings.
The first meeting between these two teams was the 2011-12 conference opener back on Dec. 29. Eastern won that contest, 79-73. The Eagles tallied 22 steals in the contest to break the school's single-game steals record that had stood for 32 years. The Bobcats ended up with 28 total turnovers, which EWU turned into 34 points.
Since that meeting though, Montana State has won six of seven games, including the last five in a row. The Bobcats are 8-1 at home this year, with the only blemish being a narrow 59-58 loss to Idaho State on Jan. 5.
Although the Bobcats have proved to be a strong team at home, the Eagles are arguably just as strong of team on the road. Thus far in the 2011-12 Big Sky season, Eastern is undefeated in road games. At 4-0, the team is off to its best league road start since 1984, when the Eags won their first six road games in conference.
Unlike its last opponent that relies heavily on defense, Montana State is a threat on both ends of the floor. The Bobcats, who returned four All-Big Sky Conference players from a year ago, are currently second in the league in scoring (70.2 ppg), field goal percentage (42.4), assists (16.2) and 3-point field goals per game (6.3). MSU has four players who average double digits.
"I think Montana State is as talented of a team as there is in this league," said Schuller. "They have people at every position who are just really solid basketball players. I think for us, as ugly as we can get it on Saturday, we'll be happy. We play well when the game is kind of a frenetic pace. Whatever we can do to get it at that speed will help our success."
Eastern is No.1 in the league in turnover margin, and ranks second in the Sky in steals and 15th nationally. In Big Sky Conference action, EWU boasts a +6.5 turnover margin, compared to MSU's -1.0.
The all-time series between the Eagles in Bobcats is just about even at 38-36, with MSU holding the slight advantage. When playing in Bozeman, the Bobcats lead 20-15.
News & Notes
Rollin' on the Road - Eastern Washington is off to its best Big Sky road season in more than 25 years. The Eagels are currently undefeated at 4-0 on the road this season. The last time EWU had a flawless Big Sky road record was in 1984, when it won its first six road games. In its first road trip of this conference season, Eastern Washington celebrated a sweep with back-to-back wins at Weber State and Northern Arizona. With those two wins in Ogden and Flagstaff, the Eagles earned just the third league road sweep in the last decade. Eastern then beat Portland State on the road on Jan. 21, followed by another big win in Missoula on Jan. 26.
Coop Puts Up National Numbers - Senior Chene Cooper (Puyallup, Wash.) currently ranks sixth in the nation in assists, averaging 7.2 per game. She is one of only seven Division I women's basketball players across the country that average seven or more. 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 currently ranks third in the EWU all-time career record book with 468, and is 12th in Big Sky history. Coop is also among the best in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. With 152 assists and only 62 turnovers this season, she ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky and 15th among all players in Division I.
Ojeda Honored - Junior Carrie Ojeda (Tacoma, Wash.) was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week for games played Jan. 16-22. This is Ojeda's first-career POTW honor, and the second for Eastern in the 2011-12 season. Brianne Ryan was also honored as a Big Sky POTW on Nov. 22. Ojeda earned the 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. Ojeda was 9-of-14 from the floor, while also contributing three blocks, one assist and one steal. With the 75-67 victory in Portland, the Eagles remained undefeated (3-0) on the road in the 2011-12 Big Sky season. Eastern was able to upset the Vikings on their home floor after going on a 20-7 run in the final five minutes of the contest. During the surge, Ojeda had three rebounds, one block and scored four points for the Eags.
Disruptive Defense - Eastern Washington is one of the top 15 teams in the nation in steals, and top 40 in turnover margin. The Eagles have had at least 10 steals in 14 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 15th in the nation. In six of its first eight conference games, EWU has forced 20 or more turnovers, with at least 12 steals in each of those contests. In it's 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 +4.2 turnover margin is the best in the Big Sky, while ranking 36th nationally.
Ryan Reaches 1,000, Coop Closing In - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) scored her 1,000th career point against Arizona State on Dec. 2. Ryan is the only active Eagle to have 1,000+ points in her career, and one of only six in the Big Sky Conference. However, fellow senior Chene Cooper is just eight points away from reaching the career milestone. Coop is likely to hit the mark in Eastern's next game, as she avearges 10.5 per outing.
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 third-leading scorer on the team, averaging 10.3 points per game, and owns the top field goal percentage among starters at 46.4. She has been even better in conference play, averaging 13.0 points and 8.4 rebounds. Ojeda leads the Big Sky Conference in blocked shots (1.8/game), and is 10th in rebounding (6.7/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.
Eagles Discover Depth - In 11 of the first 15 games of the season, senior Brianne Ryan led the Eagles in scoring. But in its six most recent outings, four different Eagles have carried the offensive load. 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. This season, six different players on the EWU roster have led the team in scoring at least once.
Carrie Crashing the Boards - In Eastern's dominant 78-62 win over Sac State (Jan. 12), junior Carrie Ojeda grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds. She had eight on the offensive glass and seven defensive. As a team, EWU grabbed 51 total rebounds, which marked a season-high for the Eagles by six. In conference games only, Ojeda is averaging 8.4 rebounds per game - nearly two more than her season average of 6.7. She ranks seventh in rebounding in league-only statistics, and 10th in all games of the 2011-12 season. She has had three double-doubles in conference play.
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 11-1 when leading at the half, and 11-1 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 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 11 victories this season, EWU shoots an average of 43.7 percent from the field. In the nine games lost, the Eags are converting 34.7 percent of their shots.
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 241, 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.
3-Point Threats - Senior Brianne Ryan has hit at least one 3-pointer in 20 of 21 game this season, and has had three or more on nine different occasions. She drained a career-high six against Portland (Nov. 29) and had five against Boise State (Dec. 17) and Montana State (Dec. 29). She is averaging 2.5 per game, which ranks third in the Big Sky and 45th nationally. In her career, Ryan has hit 122 3-pointers, which ranks eighth 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 1.4 3-pointers per game on a 43.5 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.
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 seventh in the EWU record book with 1,229 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.
Ryan Scores 30...Again - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) registered a season-high 32 points against Weber State (Jan. 5) for her third 30+ scoring effort of the season. Only one other player in the Big Sky has 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 19 games of the 2011-12 season, which is currently the longest running streak in the Big Sky. In eight of those 19 games, Ryan has poured in 20 or more points. She ranks 34th in the nation with a 18.7 points per game average.
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 5.1 rebounds per game to rank third on the squad. She has had four or more total rebounds in 15 of 1 games this year, including a career-high nine against conference foe Montana (Jan. 2). Point guard Kylie Huerta, who averages 8.3 minutes per game, has tallied 32 points and 25 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. Ryan's effort against USD was just three points shy of her career-high of 33, which she set last year versus Sacramento State on 14-of-18 shooting. 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, while playing a game-high 38 minutes against the Toreros.
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).