Eastern looking to win an unprecedented third-straight at Dahlberg Arena and move to the top of the Big Sky standings
While there is still a lot of the Big Sky season remaining, the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team has certainly emerged as one of the ‘teams to beat.’
Riding a five-game winning streak, the Eagles head to Missoula, Mont., on Saturday (Feb. 2) to face the only team ahead of them in the current Big Sky standings.
Eastern (12-8, 8-3 Big Sky) and the league-leading Lady Griz (15-5, 9-2) will tip off at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time from Dahlberg Arena.
Along with gaining a strong advantage in terms of positioning within the conference, Eastern will also be looking for a historic third-straight win at the infamous Dahlberg Arena. Since 1982-83 with the beginning of the Mountain West Conference, and through all its years in the Big Sky, Montana has never lost three regular-season home games in a row to the same opponent.
Six teams, including EWU, have won in back-to-back years, but the Lady Griz have always managed to thwart the efforts for a three-peat, winning in those games by an average of 14.2 points.
In the 2010-11 season, EWU beat Montana, 71-63, for the program’s first win in Missoula since 1987. And last year, the Eagles topped the Lady Griz, 67-57, as part of the school’s first-ever sweep of the entire Montana road trip.
The first meeting this season between EWU and Montana (Jan. 7) proved to be a defensive battle, as both teams shot below 30 percent from the field. It was a tenuous game, featuring 10 ties and five lead changes, but EWU prevailed, 58-56, thanks to some disciplined defense and couple of clutch free throws down the stretch.
The Eagles did hit 6-of-11 3-pointers in that game, but Eastern made just 16 total field goals on the night, and was out-rebounded, 40-36.
“I think offensively, we have to make sure we can find ways to score,” said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. “Montana has a lot of length, which gives them the ability to switch defensively. That can be tough to score against. This year, we have been successful when we score 65 to 70 points. We don’t want games to be in the 50’s. We are going to have to be able to get the ball up and down the floor, and work our inside out game, because we can be pretty good when we do that.”
Quick Hits for Saturday’s Game...
- A win on Saturday would not only make EWU the only conference team in history to defeat Montana in Missoula three years in a row, but head coach Wendy Schuller would become the only coach in Eastern history to win three games ever at Dahlberg Arena. As a program, EWU has only celebrated four wins total in Missoula throughout its history. Former EWU head coach Bill Smithpeters did it twice, once in 1980, and again in the championship of the Mountain West Conference tournament in 1987. Schuller has of course celebrated wins in back-to-back years, and will look to stand in a league of her own with another one on Saturday.
- Eastern Washington currently ranks 12th in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (36.8) and 29th in free throw percentage (74.7). The Eagles have hit at least six 3-pointers in each of their last six games, while five different players have contributed at least five total in that span. Throughout its current five-game winning streak, EWU has converted 44.4 percent of its 3-point shots, while holding opponents to just 19.0 percent from long range.
- EWU has won its last five games in a row, and in those contests, the Eagles have converted 73-of-86 total free throws, for an impressive 84.8 percent from the line. Sophomore guard Lexie Nelson is almost a sure-bet at the charity stripe, as she ranks 17th in the nation in free throw percentage at 87.9 percent on the season.
- Montana ranks fourth in the nation in both turnovers and assist-to-turnover ratio. On average, the Lady Griz commit just 12.3 turnovers per game, while their assist-to-turnover ratio stands at an impressive 1.24. Montana is also 15th in blocked shots with an average of 5.5 per game.
- Eastern has had three players averaging double digits in its last five games, and two others with eight or more per game. Redshirt-freshman Hayley Hodgins and sophomore guard Lexie Nelson have both contributed 14+ points during the winning streak, while senior Carrie Ojeda has averaged 11.8. Sophomore point guard Kylie Huerta has averaged 9.2 points and 6.6 assists, while junior Aubrey Ashenfelter has been strong across the board, averaging 8.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and a team-leading 2.6 steals per game.
- Montana has two players averaging double-digits this season in senior guard Kenzie De Boer (14.0) and senior forward Katie Baker (13.5). De Boer and Baker combined for 20 of Montana’s 56 points in the first meeting of the year between the two squads. De Boer attended the same high school as EWU redshirt-freshman forward Kayleigh Ryan, and her older sister, Brianne Ryan, who was the 2012 Big Sky MVP and a unanimous first-team selection for EWU.
- With 18 blocks already this season, senior Carrie Ojeda has a career total of 111, which ranks sixth in the EWU career record book. She is just four blocks away from tying Kathleen Nygaard in fifth with 115. Ojeda is third among all active players in the Big Sky in that category.