Looking to snap a four-game losing skid, No. 3-seeded Eastern takes on No. 6 Sac State in their first-ever postseason meeting
Thursday (March 8)
Quarterfinal #1 - 4 p.m. – #3 Eastern Washington (10-6) vs. #6 Sacramento State (7-9)
Quarterfinal #2 – 6:30 p.m. – #4 Montana State (10-6) vs. #5 Montana (9-7)
Friday (March 9)
Semifinal #1 – 4 p.m. - #2 Northern Colorado (11-5) vs. Highest Remaining Seed
Semifinal #2 – 6:30 p.m. #1 Idaho State (13-2) vs. Lowest Remaining Seed
Saturday (March 10)
Championship – 4 p.m. – Winner of Semifinal #1 vs. Winner of Semifinal #2
Televised on Altitude 2
The opening game of the 2012 Big Sky Conference Women's Basketball Championship will pit one team on a four-game losing skid against another that is on a four-game winning streak.
The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team is the one in a bit of a slump, while its opponent on Thursday (March 8), Sacramento State, is playing the best basketball of its season. Just two weeks ago, the Hornets took down regular-season champion Idaho State, becoming just the second Big Sky team all year to accomplish the feat.
Eastern, the No. 3 seed in this year's tourney, will take on No. 6-seeded Sac State in the quarterfinals at Reed Gym in Pocatello, Idaho, with tipoff scheduled for 4 p.m. PST. It will be the first-ever postseason meeting between the two teams.
The Eagles are preparing for a highly competitive contest on Thursday, but after beating the Hornets twice during the regular season, EWU is looking forward to the matchup.
"Sac State is going to play fast, and really push to get the ball out in transition," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "This game is going to be the opposite of what we've seen in the last few weeks against some grind-it-out teams. It will be interesting to make the adjustment back to that style of basketball, but truly, it is a style we would rather play and enjoy playing, so that's good for us."
In the first meeting of the regular-season between EWU and Sac State, the Eagles used a dominant first-half performance to knock off the Hornets, 78-62, at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. Eastern held Sac to just 19 points on 24 percent shooting in the first period.
The Eagles were up by 19 at the break, and then increased that lead to 32 with less than eight minutes remaining in the game. But after Schuller took out her starters, the Hornets managed to close the gap slightly and ended up out-scoring EWU 43-40 in the second half.
The next meeting in Sacramento was much closer, as evidenced by 10 ties and 14 lead changes. But Eastern's senior leaders, Brianne Ryan and Chene Cooper, came up with some big plays down the stretch, and EWU escaped with a 90-84 victory.
Eastern shot 60 percent from 3-point range in that game, and converted 21-of-26 free throws. Cooper, Ryan and junior Carrie Ojeda combined for 60 of EWU's 90 points.
Despite the two earlier wins against Sac, the Eagles are aware of what can happen in the unpredictable postseason. Just last year, EWU went into the Big Sky Championship as the No. 6 seed taking on the No. 3. After suffering two-straight losses to Montana State in the regular-season, EWU pulled off the supposed 'upset' in that quarterfinal matchup with the Bobcats.
"Believe me, it is not lost upon us what happened last year in the tournament," said Schuller. "We were the six-seed and Montana State was the three and we had lost to them twice during the regular-season. But we went into the game fully believing we could win it. Sac State is playing great basketball right now, and I know they believe they are going to win.
"Because of the depth in this league, when you get to the tournament, it really doesn't matter whether you're one or six. Everybody is tough, and you have to prepare to beat a good team every night."
If Eastern gets by Sac, it will certainly face another 'good' team in the semis. As the highest seeded team playing Thursday in the quarterfinals, EWU would be pitted against No. 2 Northern Colorado on Friday. The Bears earned the No. 2 seed, and first-round bye, after finishing the league season at 11-5. Two of those 11 wins were against Eastern.
In the two regular-season games against UNC, Eastern shot a combined 36.7 percent from the field, while making only 45 percent of its attempts from the free throw line. The Bears converted 46.3 percent of its shots and out-rebounded EWU, 73-54.
Statistically, the Bears boast the second-best scoring defense and second-best field-goal percentage defense in the league. UNC's sophomore point guard D'shara Strange was recently tabbed as the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year.
As is the case with Sacramento State, Eastern and Northern Colorado have never met in the postseason.
Eastern's All-Time Results in Big Sky Conference Championships
2011 – Semifinals (Portland, Ore.) #6 seed vs. #1 Portland State – L 62-73
2011 – Quarterfinal (Portland, Ore.) #6 seed vs. #3 Montana State – W 77-68
2010 – Semifinals (Cheney, Wash.) #1 seed vs. #6 Montana State – L 57-65
2006 – Quarterfinals (Pocatello, Idaho) #4 seed vs. #5 Weber State – L 69-74
2005 – Quarterfinals (Missoula, Mont.) #4 seed vs. #5 Idaho State – L 55-82
2004 – Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) #6 seed vs. #1 Montana – L 54-81
2004 – Quarterfinals (Missoula, Mont.) #6 seed vs. #3 Weber State – W 58-57
2003 – Semifinals (Ogden, Utah) #5 seed vs. #1 Weber State – L 55-64
2003 – Quarterfinals (Ogden, Utah) #5 seed vs. #4 Portland State – W 71-64
2002 – Semifinals (Ogden, Utah) #5 seed vs. #1 Weber State – L 51-68
2002 – Quarterfinals (Ogden, Utah) #5 seed vs. #4 Northern Arizona – W 70-57
2001 – Quarterfinals (Pocatello, Idaho) #6 seed vs. #3 Montana – L 55-76
2000 – Quarterfinals (Missoula, Mont.) #6 seed vs. #3 Idaho State – L 46-55
1996 – Quarterfinals (Missoula, Mont.) #6 seed vs. #3 Weber State – L 63-71
1995 – Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) #4 seed vs. #1 Montana – L 47-72
1990 – Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) #4 seed vs. #1 Montana – L 61-72
1988 – Championship (Missoula, Mont.) #3 seed vs. #1 Montana – L 53-79
1988 – Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) #3 seed vs. #2 Montana State – W 81-65
*1987 – Championship (Missoula, Mont.) #2 seed vs. #1 Montana – W 77-74
*1987 – Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) #2 seed vs. #3 Weber State – W 71-65
*1986 – Championship (Missoula, Mont.) #3 seed vs. #1 Montana – L 39-65
*1986 – Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) #3 seed vs. #2 Idaho – W 62-60
*1985 – Semifinals (Moscow, Idaho) #3 seed vs. #2 Montana – L 65-66
*1984 – Championship (Missoula, Mont.) #2 seed vs. #1 Montana – L 62-77
*1984 – Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) #2 seed vs. #3 Idaho – W 82-71
* Mountain West Conference
News & Notes
Ryan and Coop Haul In Conference Hardware - Two years after being named the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, senior Brianne Ryan was selected as the 2012 Big Sky Conference Most Valuable Player. She is the only player in league history to win both awards in a career. Ryan, a unanimous first-team selection, is the second player in Eastern Washington history, and the second in three years, to take home MVP honors. Julie Piper earned the school's first-ever MVP award in 2009-10. Ryan, who led the league in scoring throughout the entire 2011-12 campaign, was also a first-team selection last year as a junior. Senior Chene Cooper (Puyallup, Wash.) was also honored this season as a member of the All-Big Sky Second Team. It was her second all-conference accolade, as she was also an honorable mention selection in 2011. Cooper led the league in assists and steals every week of the 2011-12 season. Both Cooper and Ryan were also honored at the end of the regular-season by College Sports Madness. Ryan was tabbed as their Big Sky Player of the Year, and a first-team selection. She was also just one of two Big Sky players named to their All-Mid Major team, as she earned second-team honors. Cooper was named to their All-Big Sky second team, while junior center Carrie Ojeda was a fourth-team selection.
Eastern's Big Sky Tourney Tradition - Eastern Washington is making its third-straight appearance in the Big Sky Conference Championship, and eighth in head coach Wendy Schuller's 11-year tenure. Since becoming a member of the Big Sky Conference, Eastern has advanced to the semifinals eight times and championship game once, but has never won a tournament crown. The Eagles did win the Mountain West Conference title in 1986-87 with a 77-74 win over Montana. Eastern Washington is 9-16 all-time in conference tournament games (including Big Sky and Mountain West).
Better Shooting Key to Snapping Four-Game Losing Skid - After winning six games in a row from Jan. 21 - Feb. 9, the Eagles have lost four-straight heading into the Big Sky Conference Championship. The glaring difference in these two streaks has been in its own field goal percentage, as well as its field goal percentage defense. In the last four outings, EWU has allowed teams to shoot 46 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3-point range. Conversely, EWU has converted just 35 percent of its total shots, and only 26 percent from beyond the arc. In its previous six wins, Eastern was shooting 46 percent from the field, while holding opponents to 36.2.
Coop Puts Up National Numbers - Senior Chene Cooper (Puyallup, Wash.) currently ranks sixth in the nation in assists, averaging 6.8 per game. 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 more than two 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 is currently second in the EWU all-time career record book with 515, and is sixth in Big Sky history. Coop is also among the best in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. With 198 assists and only 90 turnovers this season, she ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky and 11th among all players in Division I.
Better in Blowouts - This season, Eastern Washington has proved to be a more successful team in games decided by at least 10 points. The Eagles are 13-5 in the 2011-12 campaign in games where the scoring margin reaches double digits. Eastern is 3-9 on the year when the game is decided by less than 10. Eastern has not played in a single overtime game this year. In its 16 victories, Eastern has out-scored its opponent by an average of 16 points.
Other Keys to a Win - In addition to scoring margin, there are a couple other glaring statistics that lead to an Eastern Washington win. This season, the Eagles are 14-2 when leading at the half, and 15-2 when shooting above 40 percent from the field. Eastern has won only one of 11 games in which it trailed at halftime, and in that game, Eastern was down by just one single point at intermission. The Eagles have won only one of 12 games in which they've shot below 40 percent from the field. In its 16 victories this season, EWU has shot an average of 44.3 percent from the field. In the 13 games lost, the Eags are converting 34.8 percent of their shots.
Disruptive Defense - Eastern Washington is one of the top 20 teams in the nation in steals, and top 50 in turnover margin. The Eagles have had at least 10 steals in 19 different 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 23rd in the nation. In eight of 16 conference games, EWU has forced 20 or more turnovers, with at least 12 steals in each of those contests. In its 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 +3.8 turnover margin in conference play is the best in the Big Sky.
Freaky Fives - In Eastern's game at Northern Colorado on Feb. 16, senior Chene Cooper recorded a very interesting stat line. The senior point guard, who wears #5 and stands at five feet tall, finished the game with five points, five rebounds, five assists, five steals and five turnovers...now that's freaky.
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 leading rebounder (7.0/game), the third-leading scorer on the team (10.2/game) and owns the top field goal percentage among starters at 45.5. She has been even better in conference play, averaging 11.4 points and 8.1 rebounds. Ojeda is the best shot blocker in the Big Sky, averaging 1.8 per 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 an important 75-67 win on the road.
Onslaught of Honors - For four-consecutive weeks during the 2011-12 regular season, a member of the Eastern Washington women's basketball team was named the Big Sky Player of the Week, and for the first three weeks, it was a different player each time. Senior Brianne Ryan received the honor in back-to-back weeks, first as a Co-POW with Montana State's Katie Bussey on Feb. 6, and then independently on Feb. 13. She earned the latter accolade after leading EWU to a 78-45 rout of Weber State, which was Eastern's largest margin of victory against a Division I progam this season. Ryan poured in a career-high-tying 33 points - her fourth 30+ outing of the season. She was 13-of-20 from the field, including a nearly perfect 5-of-6 effort from 3-point range. She also grabbed five rebounds and had a game-high five steals in just 29 minutes on the floor. Along with being named POW by the conference office, Ryan was also recognized with the same award by College Sports Madness. The week prior, in Eastern's wins against NAU (Feb. 2) at home and Sac State (Feb. 4) on the road, Ryan averaged 27.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. She had 29 points against NAU with three 3-pointers, followed by a 26-point effort at Sac, which included a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line. In the week before Ryan, senior Chene Cooper was selected as the POW after leading the Eagles to a sweep of the Montana road trip for the first time since becoming a member of Division I athletics in 1983-84. The 5-foot-0 point guard averaged 15.5 points, 8.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds. Against perennial power Montana, Cooper was sensational with a game-high 18 points, nine assists and only one turnover in 37 minutes on the floor. On Jan. 23, junior Carrie Ojeda earned her first-career POW 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. She was 9-of-14 from the floor, while also contributing three blocks, one assist and one steal.
Ryan Also Recognized for Role in Montana Sweep - After leading Eastern in its historic sweep of the Montana road trip, senior point guard Chene Cooper was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week by the league office, but fellow senior Brianne Ryan received the same honor by College Sports Madness. Ryan averaged 18.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in the sweep. On Thursday at Dahlberg, Ryan posted 15 points with two 3-pointers, and had five rebounds, one assist and one block. Against the Bobcats, Ryan poured in a game-high 22 points on a 9-of-16 effort from the floor, including two more 3-pointers. She was two rebounds shy of a double-double, as she finished with eight on the night. In addition to leading her team offensively, Ryan also had the job of guarding Montana State's leading scorer. She held senior guard Katie Bussey, who ranks second in the Big Sky in scoring, to just four points on 2-of-10 from the field. In Montana State's very next game against ISU, Bussey went off for 41 points.
Ryan Scores 30...Again - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) registered a season and career-high-tying 33 points against Weber State (Feb. 9) for her fourth 30+ scoring effort of the season. Only two other players in the Big Sky have 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 26 games of the 2011-12 season, which is currently the longest running streak in the Big Sky. In 12 of those 25 games, Ryan has poured in 20 or more points - the most 20+ scoring efforts of any Big Sky player this season.
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 third in the EWU record book with 1,432 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.
3-Point Threats - Senior Brianne Ryan has hit at least one 3-pointer in 28 of 29 game this season, and has had three or more on 11 different occasions. She drained a career-high six against Portland (Nov. 29) and had five against Boise State (Dec. 17), Montana State (Dec. 29) and Weber State (Feb. 9). She is averaging 2.3 per game, which is third in Big Sky statistics and is among the top 50 nationally. In her career, Ryan has hit 139 3-pointers, which ranks fifth in the EWU record book. Sophomore guard Chenise Pakootas has also become a major scoring threat for EWU, especially from beyond the arc. She owns the very best 3-point field goal percentage in the Big Sky at 40.5. She ranks 14th in 3-pointers made, averaging 1.2 per game. Pakootas hit three treys in Eastern's road game at Northern Colorado on Feb. 16. She had a career outing in Eastern's final non-conference game against Idaho, scoring 14 points with a career-high four 3-pointers.
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 5.3 rebounds per game to rank third on the squad. She has had four or more total rebounds in 22 of 29 games this year, including a career-high nine against Montana (Jan. 2) and again at Sac State (Feb. 4). Point guard Kylie Huerta, who averages 7.7 minutes per game, has tallied 43 points and 30 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.
Ryan and Coop Join 1,000-Point Club - Senior Brianne Ryan (Lynden, Wash.) scored her 1,000th career point against Arizona State on Dec. 2, and senior Chene Cooper accomplished the same feat against Montana State on Jan. 28. Ryan and Coop are two of only eight players in the Big Sky Conference to reach the career milestone.
Eagles Discover Depth - This season, six different players on the EWU roster have led the team in scoring at least once, and seven in rebounding. 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.
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 258, Cooper also appears in the Big Sky record book for all-time career steals, ranking sixth 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.
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. 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.
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).