Now for sure a No. 3 or 4 seed, Eastern will play either Sacramento State or Montana State in quarterfinals of the 2012 Big Sky Championship
It was a battle till the very end, but the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team came up just short in its regular-season finale against Big Sky champion Idaho State. The Eagles fell to ISU, 63-58, on Saturday (March 3) at Reed Gym in Pocatello, Idaho.
With a win against Portland State, Northern Colorado secured the No. 2 seed in the 2012 Big Sky Conference Championship, held March 8-10 in Pocatello. Eastern (16-13, 10-6) must now await the outcome of Montana's game at Northern Arizona later tonight.
If Montana (16-12, 9-6) loses, Eastern earns the No. 3 seed and will face No. 6 Sacramento State in the quarterfinals. If Montana wins, EWU and UM will have identical Big Sky records of 10-6, with the exact same wins and losses against every other Big Sky team, which includes a split against one another. Thus, the tiebreaker will come down to RPI rating, which will be released early Monday (March 5).
Montana State also finished the year at 10-6, but because both Eastern and Montana swept MSU during the regular season, the Bobcats will be the No. 5 seed in the tourney.
Although the end result on Saturday was a loss, Eastern played a competitive game against the regular-season champion, which was really the ultimate goal for its final tune up before the postseason begins.
"Obviously, we wanted to win and were fighting hard to win," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "But in the end, the result didn't matter much because Northern Colorado got it done anyway. We just wanted to get back to playing the kind of basketball we were a few weeks ago, and I thought we did that."
After winning six games in a row from Jan. 21 - Feb. 9, EWU had lost its last three straight, including two at home last week to Portland State and Idaho State.
"We were more active than we had been and moved around a lot more on the defensive end. We pushed the ball and pushed the tempo and got a lot of opportunities in transition. Really, what it came down to was Idaho State made a few shots down the stretch and we didn't."
With just over three minutes left to play, Eastern's senior guard Brianne Ryan hit her first 3-pointer of the afternoon, which tied the game for the 10th time at 56-56. Idaho State answered on its next trip down the floor, as junior guard Kaela Oakes was able to convert a layup.
The Bengals then extended their lead to four after senior Chelsea Pickering hit two free throws. Ryan made it 60-58 with two made free throws of her own, but the Eagles then missed back-to-back jumpers on the same possession. With 21 ticks remaining, Oakes hit another basket to make it a two-possession game and Eastern could not come up with an answer as time elapsed.
"It was really a great game," said Schuller. "Both teams played hard, but we just missed a few good opportunities. Despite the loss, I think we played well together as a team and put ourselves in a good position in terms of morale heading into the tournament. And at this point, everyone is 0-0."
Ryan led the Eagles with 16 points and seven rebounds, while fellow senior Chene Cooper chipped in 14 points with three 3-pointers. Cooper also had three rebounds and three steals.
Junior Carrie Ojeda posted seven points on 3-of-6 shooting, and had four rebounds, two steals and a block.
As a team, Eastern shot 39 percent from the field, just slightly lower than ISU's 40.4 field goal percentage. Eastern had only 11 turnovers in the game, compared to 14 by Idaho State. But the Bengals out-rebounded EWU, 44-31, and managed to get to the free throw line 11 more times.