Looking for First Regular-Season Sweep, Eagles Play at Southern Utah Saturday

Coming off a tough loss at home, Eastern looks to earn on back on the road

UPCOMING GAMES/COVERAGE

Eastern at Southern Utah
Saturday, Feb. 16 | 6 p.m. PST
Centrum Arena | Cedar City, Utah
Complete Game Notes | Live Stats | Live Webcast


This week when the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team heads to Cedar City, Utah, to take on the Thunderbirds of Southern Utah, the Eags will be aiming for that coveted 10th win in Big Sky Conference play.

Eastern, currently third in the Big Sky standings with a 9-5 record, was denied that 10th win in its last outing, when Northern Arizona erased a 12-point second-half deficit and upended the Eagles at Reese Court, 62-58.

But with only one game on the schedule this week, Eastern will have plenty of time to prepare for their meeting with the Thunderbirds on Saturday (Feb. 16) at 6 p.m. Pacific time.

“Coming off a fast and physical game against Sac State that required a lot of your energy for 40 minutes, and then the NAU loss that was really draining, I think it is a good thing we have a slower week this week,” said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. “We took yesterday off to just decompress and we came back today looking through windshield rather than the rear view mirror.”

In the first meeting of the year between EWU and Southern Utah, there were 43 fouls called between the two teams. The Eagles made a season-high 25-of-26 free throws, while SUU converted 22-of-27. Eastern won the game by nine points (79-70) after shooting 44 percent from the field and a season-high 57.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, while also holding the Thunderbirds to 34.8 percent shooting for the game.

But Southern Utah did out-score EWU in the paint, 34-14 and out-rebounded the Eags, 44-25. SUU is leading the conference this season in rebounding offense (44.7/game) and rebounding margin (+7.3).

“Southern Utah is a really good team, and on their home floor, I know they are going to play hard and play well,” said Schuller. “They have a nice combination of athleticism and big post players who can score. They also have a really solid guard that is tough to stop. This is a big game for us because we’ve got to do something to get that one back that we lost at home.”

The Thunderbirds come in with a 5-8 record in conference, which puts them right on the cusp for a postseason bid. There are four teams all within a half-game of each another who may all be fighting for that seventh spot in the Big Sky Conference tournament, held March 14-16 at the site of the regular-season champion.

“They [Southern Utah] are fighting to get into the playoffs right now, so I know they’re going to bring us everything they’ve got,” said Schuller. “We will definitely remind our team of that as we get later into the week and start working on the scout. But right now, we are just focusing on ourselves, because in the end, that’s what it’s about. I think when we play hard and we play well and play together, we are a really good basketball team regardless of the opponent at that time.”

Eastern is currently two games out of first in the league standings, and holds a slight half-game lead on fourth-place Idaho State (8-5) and Sacramento State (8-5). Montana State is also right on the heels at 8-6.

Along with improving its positioning with the conference, a win Saturday would also give EWU its first regular-season sweep of the 2012-13 Big Sky season. Eastern split with Montana, Montana State and Sac State, and lost both to Northern Arizona. This will be the first of six sweep opportunities, as EWU has already defeated the remaining six teams on its schedule.

News & Notes You Should Know

ONE OF THE BEST IN THE NATION FROM THREE: Eastern Washington is not only the best 3-point shooting team in the Big Sky this season, but the Eagles rank among the top 20 in the nation in terms of efficiency from beyond the arc. EWU is converting 35.9 percent of its shots from downtown, and 39.2 percent in league-only games.  Eastern averages 5.8 3-point field goals per game, which is second only to Sac State. Eastern has three players who rank in the top 15 in terms of 3-point field goal pct, including Hayley Hodgins (4th), Lexie Nelson (5th) and Aubrey Ashenfelter (7th). In the last eight games, thos four players, plus point guard Kylie Huerta, have combined for 45 made threes.

FREE THROW FRENZY: Sophomore Lexie Nelson converted a career-high 12-of-12 free throws in Eastern's last meeting with Southern Utah (Jan. 26). In doing so, she bettered a 21-year old school record held by Lisa Graber, who made 11-of-11 against Northern Arizona on Feb. 22, 1992. She also tied the all-time Big Sky single-game record of 1.000 percent (with at least 12 attempts), which has been met by 12 different players throughout history. As a team, EWU ranks first in the Big Sky and 30th in the nation from the free throw line at 74.5 percent on the season. The last time EWU played Southern Utah, the Eagles made a season-high 25-of-26 free throws.

OJEDA CLIMBING THE CHARTS: With two blocks in Eastern's most recent game against NAU (Feb. 7), senior Carrie Ojeda brought her career total to 117, which moved the senior into fifth place on EWU's all-time career blocks list. Ojeda surpassed Kathleen Nygaard, who had 115 in her four years (2002-04) with the Eagles. Ojeda is 20 blocks away from Nicolle Scott in fourth place with 137 career blocks. Ojeda is fourth among all active players in the Big Sky in that category. She has had at least one block in 14 of 22 games played this season, and has posted three or more on three different occasions.

BACK ON TRACK: In the first five games of the 2013 calendar year, EWU was shooting just 36.8 percent from the floor, and 35.5 percent from three. But in its last eight games, six of which were wins, Eastern has converted 43 percent of its field goals, and 39 percent from downtown. The Eagles are first in the league in boht 3-point field goal percentage (35.9) and free throw percentage (74.5) and are second in overall field goal percentage (40.6).

STARTING SUITS THEM: Redshirt-freshman Hayley Hodgins and sophomore Kylie Huerta were inserted into EWU's starting lineup midway through the season, and the new role has certainly agreed with both players. In the last eight games, Hodgins has averaged 11 points on 42 percent shooting, and has knocked down 13-of-26 attempts from beyond the arc. Huerta has averaged 10 points, 6.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds.  As non-starters, Hodgins was averaging was averaging just 4.6 points on 37 percent, while Huerta averaged 5.1 points and just 2.7 assists. Since becoming a member of the starting five, Huerta has posted an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.4, with 50 total assists and 21 turnovers. She currently leads the Big Sky in that category, while ranking in the top 50 nationally. In Hodgins' first-career start in red and white, the 5-10 guard was flawless on the offensive end, going 7-of-7 from the field, and 3-of-3 from downtown. In doing so, she became the first player in the Big Sky this season to shoot 100 percent from the field with at least five attempts. Following her impressive efforts in Eastern's home sweep of North Dakota and Northern Colorado, Hodgins was named the Big Sky Player of the Week - the first EWU player honored in the 2012-13 season.

PUPS STEP UP: In EWU's 79-70 win over Southern Utah (Jan. 26), the Eagles had eight different players score at least six points - and six of them were underclassmen. Sophomores Lexie Nelson and Kylie Huerta led the way with 21 and 12 points, respectively, while redshirt-freshman Hayley Hodgins chipped in six. But the surprise contributors were freshmen Kayleigh Ryan and Hanna Mack, who both posted a career-high six points on a combined 5-of-8 effort from the floor.

EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS...AGAIN: In recent years, head coach Wendy Schuller has not earned a lot of respect from her peers in the preseason. Eastern Washington was picked eighth in tthis year's Big Sky Preseason Coaches’ and Media Poll - a ranking that would leave the Eagles just out of the seven-team postseason tournament. But EWU is certainly familiar with that kind of prediction - and even more familiar with proving it wrong. Prior to the 2009-10 season, the Eagles were selected seventh by both the coaches and media. That year, EWU went on to win the school’s first-ever Big Sky regular-season title with an imipressive 12-4 league record. Last season, the Eagles were picked seventh again, and ended up finishing third overall. Right now, Eastern is among the top three teams in the league, after starting the year picked in the bottom four.

OJEDA DELIVERS AGAINST VIKINGS: Senior Carrie Ojeda has posted six double-doubles this year - the third most in the Big Sky. One of them came in a 68-56 win a Portland State (Jan. 21), when Ojeda had 14 points and 11 rebounds. Interestinlgy, Ojeda has registered a double-double in each of the last four regular-season meetings with the Viks. She has had a total of 12 double-doubles in her career.

WILLIAMS' WEEKEND TO REMEMBER: EWU came away with two losses on its road trip earlier this year to Northern Arizona and Sac State, but individually, sophomore forward Melissa Williams had the best weekend of her Eagle career. She posted back-to-back double-doubles, averaging 11.5 points (nearly triple her season average) and 11.0 rebounds, while also leading the team in assists with seven. Against the Lumberjacks in Flagstaff, Williams had a career high in both points and rebounds, as she finished with 13 tallies on 4-of-8 shooting from the field and 5-of-7 from the free throw line, and grabbed 11 boards. She also had four assists, one block and one steal. Two days later against the Hornets, she had 10 points and 11 rebounds, to go along with three assists and two steals. But her stellar weekend came to a premature end when she went down with a knee injury in the final six minutes of the Sac State game. Williams suffered a sprained MCL, and had to sit out for two weeks. But the sophomore forward made her return against Southern Utah (Jan. 26), contributing six points and five rebounds.

150 AND COUNTING: Wendy Schuller won her 150th game as EWU’s head coach with a 75-72 home win over North Dakota on Jan. 17. That started a current four-game winning streak for the Eagles. Schuller has a career record of 154-189 (.459) in 12 years as head coach at EWU.

REGARDING ASSIST/TURNOVER RATIO: In games that Eastern has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.8 or higher, the Eagles are 11-2. When the assist-to-turnover ratio is below 0.8, the team is 2-7. EWU is 7-0 this year when committing less turnovers than its opponent, and is 8-1 when tallying more assists. On the season, the Eagles rank fifth in the conference in assist/turnover ratio at 0.8.

VALUE OF VERSATILITY...ON OFFENSE: Eastern has had seven different players lead the team in scoring this year. Sophomore Lexie Nelson leads the way with 10 team-high performances, while Carrie Ojeda, Aubrey Ashenfelter, Chenise Pakootas, Laura Hughes, Kylie Huerta and Hayley Hodgins have all led in points at least once. Eastern has had at least three different players score in double-figures in 10 of the last 14 games for a 10-4 record in those contests.

VALUE OF VERSATILITY...ON DEFENSE: Eastern also shares the wealth defensively, in both rebounding and steals. Seven different players have led in those categories at least once this year. Senior Carrie Ojeda, juniors Aubrey Ashenfelter and Laura Hughes, and sophomore Melissa Williams have each posted at least one double-digit rebounding effort in the 2012-13 campaign.

NOT ONE FOR THE NAIL-BITER: Eastern Washington has not played in an overtime game in more than two years - the last one being a 76-73 loss to Idaho State on Feb. 5, 2011. In fact, 15 of Eastern’s 23 games this year have been decided by double digits. But that's not to say Eastern wouldn't fare well in a nail-biter, because in the eight games this year decided by less than 10 points, EWU is 6-2..

TOUGH SLATE: During the non-conference season, in which Eastern went 4-5, the team played two opponents (Cal, Gonzaga) who were either ranked or receiving votes in the USA Today Sports Coaches Top 25 Poll. EWU opened the year against Pacific and Cal State Northridge - the two teams picked to finish at the top of the Big West Conference this year, and who both have a .600 or better winning percentage at this point in the year. On its 2012-13 schedule, the Eagles have a total of seven opponents that participated in national tournaments a year ago.

GATORADE GIRLS: This year, Eastern Washington boasts not one, but two Gatorade Players of the Year on its roster. A product of Butte (Mont.) High School, sophomore Lexie Nelson was the Gatorade Player of the Year for Montana in 2010, while freshman Tisha Phillips, a graduate of Lewiston (Idaho) High School, earned the honor for Idaho in 2012. Nelson was a four-time Class AA All-State selection, and led her team to back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Montana State Championships. Phillips was a two-time First-Team All-State selection, and won two Idaho 5A state titles with the Bengals.

WHAT WENDY HAS DONE...
• Eastern has advanced to the Big Sky Conference tournament in eight of Schuller’s 11 years as head coach, including the last three in a row. Behind Montana's Robin Selvig, who has been with the program for a whopping 35 years, Schuller is the second-longest tenured coach in the Big Sky in terms of years coaching in the conference. And the most successful years of those 12 has been the three most recent.  In the last three seasons, Eastern has earned 30 Big Sky Conference wins, which is more than it had in the previous five seasons combined.

• Her 2009-10 squad captured the school's first-ever Big Sky regular-season title, and hosted the league tournament for the first time in school history. Schuller was named Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year after leading the squad to a 12-4 mark in the conference and 19-12 overall, which were the best records posted by an Eagle squad since the 1984-85 season when Eastern was still a member of the Mountain West Conference. That year, the Eagles advanced to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, marking the school’s first national postseason appearance since the 1987 season.

• It should also be noted that in 2009-10 - the year EWU won the Big Sky regular-season title - the Eagles were picked seventh in the preseason coaches' poll. Last year in 2011-12, the Eagles were again picked seventh, and ended up finishing third. And right now, Schuller's 2012-13 team, which was picked eighth in the preseason poll, is currently atop the Big Sky standings with a perfect 3-0 record.
 
• Schuller has had 13 different players named to one or more All-Big Sky Conference teams, including two league MVPs in Julie Piper (2010) and Brianne Ryan (2012), as well as the school’s first Big Sky Newcomer of the Year, Julie Page, who competed in the 2012 London Olympics as a captain for the Great Britain national team.

• In the past 10 seasons, Eastern Washington women’s basketball players have been honored 88 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 WBCA Academic Top 25 Honor Roll for 10 of the past 11 seasons, and in 2003-04, the Eagles led the nation with a 3.63 grade point average.

• In the 2011-12 season, Schuller led the Eagles to a first-ever sweep of the Montana road trip in school history. The back-to-back wins at Montana (Jan. 26) and Montana State (Jan. 28) were two of Eastern’s six total road wins in the Big Sky season - which tied another school record. Schuller's teams have in fact won two years in a row at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont., which is a milestone in itself considering the Eagles as a program have only recorded four wins there throughout history. Former head coach Bill Smithpeters also won twice in Missoula - once in 1980, and again in 1987 when EWU upset Montana in the championship game of the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
 
PRESEASON TALKING POINTS
• Eastern won their lone exhibition game on Nov. 4 against the NAIA’s Carroll College. EWU out-scored the Saints by 22 in the second half to roll to a 65-38 victory. Nine different Eagles contributed points in the game, led by sophomore Lexie Nelson, who poured in 19.

• Eastern returns three starters and six other letterwinners, as well as three redshirts and four newcomers. But for the first time in three years, the Eagles will not welcome back an All-Big Sky player. Following the 2011-12 season, Eastern graduated two-time unanimous first-team selection and 2012 Big Sky MVP Brianne Ryan, as well as second-team honoree Chene Cooper, who accounted for nearly 50 percent of the Eagle scoring a year ago.

• Eastern is coming off one of its best seasons ever in the Big Sky Conference. With a 10-6 record in 2011-12, EWU took third in the league race - its second-best effort in more than two decades. The only better finish since 1987-88, when the Big Sky started sponsoring women’s sports, came two years prior in 2009-10, when the Eagles won the school’s first-ever regular-season title with a 12-4 league record.

ON THE RECRUITING TRAIL...
Eastern Washington University head women’s basketball coach Wendy Schuller announced the signing of four high-school standouts to national letters of intent during the early signing period. Eastern’s 2013 recruiting class includes Spokane native Jade Redmon, 5-9 guard Bethany Montgomery out of Tacoma, Wash., 6-0 forward Haley Shaner from Sacramento, Calif., and  6-3 center Marly Anderson of Hillsboro, Ore., who ranks among the top 60 nationally for her position, according to Hoopgurlz.com.

Jade Redmon is a standout for Mead High School. She was a 2012 All-Greater Spokane League First-Team selection, averaging a team-leading 14.6 points per game during her junior campaign. A dual-sport athlete, Redmon also excelled as a member of the girls soccer team, earning All-GSL honorable mention accolades as a defender in 2011. Recently, she helped lead the Panthers to an Elite Eight berth in the 2012 4A State Soccer Championships.Outside of her high school career, Redmon plays for the eminent Northwest Blazers AAU team, under coach Steve Klees. In 2012, her Northwest Blazers Orange team earned a 43-2 record. The club team captured the End of Trail Music City Madness Tournament title in Nashville, Tenn., where Redmon was selected to the all-tournament team. The Orange also won the elite division championship at the MSNM Tournament in San Diego, Calif. Redmon comes from a family of successful collegiate athletes. Her older sister, Jazmine, is a junior point guard with the nationally-acclaimed Gonzaga women’s basketball team, while mother, Shaney, was a track and field athlete at Washington State University. Coincidentally, Shaney was coached at WSU by Eastern’s current head track and field coach, Marcia Mecklenburg.

Bethany Montgomery comes to Eastern from Wilson High School in Tacoma, Wash. Montgomery is a three-time All-Narrows League selection, earning first-team honors as a freshman and junior, and second-team accolades as a sophomore. She was a Tacoma News Tribune All-Area second-team selection in 2012 and earned All-Area Honorable Mention from the Seattle Times that same year. As a junior, she averaged 13.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.4 steals for WHS. Montgomery led the Rams to a Narrows League title in 2012 with a perfect 10-0 record. Her team went on to finish second in the West Central District that year with a 20-4 overall mark. Montgomery is also a Narrows League high jump champion, and was named to the Seattle Times track and field All-Area honorable mention team in 2012. Montgomery has earned the WIAA Distinguished Scholastic Award for three-consecutive years and was a finalist for Tacoma Athlete of the Year in 2010.

Haley Shaner, a 6-0 forward out of West Campus High School in Sacramento, Calif., is the reigning two-time Golden Empire League MVP, and was a 2012 Sacramento Bee All-Metro second-team selection. Averaging 16.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and just over two assists, steals and blocks per game in 2012, Shaner led her team a runner-up finish in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Championships. The Warriors reached the section title game for the first time in school history after a 50-47 upset of rival Colfax in the semifinals, which marked West Campus’ 19th-consecutive win of the 2011-12 season. Shaner registered a game-high 14 points and nine rebounds in the historic win. She also led her team to two-consecutive Golden Empire League titles, including a perfect 10-0 run in 2012.

Marly Anderson is rated as the No. 55 recruit in the nation for her position, according to Hoopgurlz.com. She is a three-year starter for the Glencoe Crimson Tide in Hillsboro, Ore., and also plays for one of the top club teams in the nation - Team Concept. Anderson is a three-time All-Pacific Conference selection, which includes first-team honors in 2012. As a junior, she averaged 12.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per game to help lead her team to a 6A-4 Pacific Conference regular-season title. Behind a 21-point, 12-rebound performance from Anderson in the opening round, the Crimson Tide advanced to the Elite Eight of the Class 6A Oregon State Championships in 2012. With Team Concept, Anderson played alongside 6-5 post Mercedes Russell - the nation’s top-rated recruit for 2013. The five-star recruit and Oregon Class 5A Player of the Year signed with Tennessee on Wednesday (Nov. 14).

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