Eastern kicks off second half of Big Sky season against top two teams in the league
The Montana road trip is never an easy one for women’s basketball teams in the Big Sky Conference, but this year, that jaunt to the Treasure State becomes even more difficult, as Montana and Montana State are currently the two teams at the top of the Big Sky standings.
The Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team will take on the league leaders this weekend in a couple of fierce conference matchups. With a 7-3 record, Eastern is a just one game behind Montana and Montana State in the Big Sky standings. The Lady Griz and Bobcats share the same record of 8-2.
Eastern plays at Montana State Thursday (Jan. 31) at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time, before heading to Missoula to take on the Lady Griz Saturday (Feb. 2) at 1:05 p.m. Both games can be followed live via a free webcast at www.bigskytv.org.
“We know we have a daunting challenge ahead of us,” said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. “But these are also two teams whose facilities we’ve won in recently, so we know we can do it. It is exciting to have the opportunity to play at two places that are really successful and have a great fan base. Montana and Montana State are playing great basketball, but I think we are playing good basketball as well right now. Mentally and physically, we are ready for the challenge.”
Eastern does have momentum heading into the big road trip. EWU has won its last four Big Sky games in a row, shooting 45 percent from the field, 45 percent from three and 83 percent from the free throw line in those games. In its most recent win against Southern Utah (Jan. 26), the Eagles not only had strong efforts from its starters, but the EWU bench came up big in the meeting with the Big Sky newcomer.
“Our bench was awesome on Saturday, and like I said after the game, we probably would not have won without the effort they gave us,” said Schuller. “They came in and gave such a boost not only in scoring, but just with an infusion of energy. They got everybody going.
“We have had so many players step up for us - assuming roles and doing things that they are not normally called upon to do,” added Schuller. “That kind of depth is so important in this conference because it is a grind in the Big Sky. This is a tall roof we are trying to get to the top of, and we are just at the midway point now. But our players have all shown that they are prepared whenever they’re number is called - they are fearless.”
In addition to the recent success of the 2012-13 season, the Eagles have the fond memories from its trip last year to the Montanas. In the 2011-12 campaign, EWU swept the Montana road trip for the first time in school history. EWU has in fact won two games in a row in Missoula, with its 71-63 victory during the 2010-11 season.
Earlier this year when the teams met in Cheney, EWU split the two games with Montana and Montana State. EWU narrowly defeated UM on Jan. 3, 58-56, but then lost to Montana State on Jan. 5, 73-60, after giving up a big run in the second half.
In those two games, the Eagles averaged just 59 points and shot 34 percent from the field. In the seven Big Sky games EWU has won this year, the team has averaged 70.2 points.
“I think offensively, we have to make sure we can find ways to score,” said Schuller. “Montana and Montana State both have 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 are pretty good when we can do that.”
News & Notes You Ought to Know
STREAKING THROUGH THE SKY: The first half of the Big Sky season has been a collection of streaks for EWU. The Eagles started the league season 3-0, then suffered three-consecutive losses - one at home and two on the road. But EWU is now riding a four-game winning streak as it heads into the second half of the league season.
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 15 in the nation in terms of efficiency. EWU is converting 36.6 percent of its shots from downtown, and 41.7 percent in league-only games. Eastern averages 5.9 3-point field goals per game, which is second only to Sacramento State at 6.4. But the Hornets have taken 84 more threes this season than EWU, and only makes 29 percent of them. Eastern has four players who rank in the top 15 in that category, including Hayley Hodgins (4th), Aubrey Ashenfelter (5th), Lexie Nelson (7th) and Chenise Pakootas (12th). In the last four games, those four players have combined for 26 made threes.
FREE THROW FRENZY: Sophomore Lexie Nelson converted a career-high 12-of-12 free throws in Eastern's most recent win over 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.
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 four games, all of which were wins, Eastern has converted 45 percent of its field goals, and an even better 47 percent from downtown. The Eagles are first in the league in 3-point field goal percentage (36.6), second in free throw percentage (73.9) and third in overall field goal percentage (40.5).
HODGINS HAS ARRIVED: Redshirt-freshman Hayley
Hodgins has quickly become one EWU's biggest offensive threats. In
the last six Big Sky games, the 5-10 guard has averaged 15 points
on 54 percent shooting. She has made 14-of-26 shots from beyond the
arc, and 12-of-16 at the free-throw line. Against UNC, Hodgins did
not miss a single shot all game, going 7-of-7 from the field, and
3-of-3 from downtown, to become the first player in the Big Sky
this season to shoot 100 percent from the field with at least five
attempts. For leading EWU in those back-to-back wins against 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. Here is what head coach Wendy Schuller had to say
about Hayley's recent contributions: “Hayley has arrived in a
lot of ways. She is a player we always felt was capable, and now
she is to the point where she has more confidence in herself and
her teammates have tremendous confidence in her. It’s a lot
of fun to see players grow up and blossom into what you always
believed they could be. I think Hayley has done so well because
she’s not forcing anything and we’re not forcing it
with play calls. She is just getting everything within the scope of
what we do. She is really solid because she can shoot the three and
also put it on the floor. She just does a great job of being
patient and taking what comes.”
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.
OJEDA DELIVERS AGAINST VIKINGS: Senior Carrie Ojeda has posted five double-doubles this year - the third most in the Big Sky. The most recent one came in a 68-56 win a Portland State (Jan. 21), when Ojeda had 14 points and 11 rebounds. Ojeda has had a total of 11 double-doubles in her career, and interestingly, she has registered four of them against Portland State, including one in each of the last four regular-season meetings with the Vikings.
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 the current four-game winning streak for the Eagles. Schuller has a career record of 153-88 in 12 years as head coach at EWU.
WILLIAMS HAS STELLAR WEEKEND, BUT WITH A SOUR ENDING: Sophomore forward Melissa Williams had the best weekend of her Eagle career in Eastern's recent outings at Northern Arizona (Jan. 10) and Sacramento State (Jan. 12). 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, 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.
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 nine 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 eight of the last 12 games for a 9-3 record.
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.
IMPORTANCE OF AN EARLY LEAD: Eastern earned its first win of the year when trailing at the half in a recent game against North Dakota (Jan. 17). The Eagles were down by five points to UND at halftime, but rallied for a three-point win. Overall on the year, EWU is 10-2 when leading or tied at the half, and 1-5 when trailing at intermission.
REGARDING ASSIST/TURNOVER RATIO: Similar to the record discrepancy in regards to halftime scores, EWU is 6-0 this year when committing less turnovers than its opponent, and is 7-1 when tallying more assists. In games that Eastern has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.8 or higher, the Eagles are 9-2. When the assist-to-turnover ratio is below 0.8, the team is 2-6.
NOT ONE FOR THE NAIL-BITER: Eastern Washington has not played in an overtime game in nearly two years - the last one being a 76-73 loss to Idaho State on Feb. 5, 2011. In fact, 11 of Eastern’s 18 games this year have been decided by 10 or more points. But that's not to say Eastern wouldn't fare well in a nail-biter, because in the six games this year decided by less than 10 points, EWU is 5-1.
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 Washington was picked eighth in the 2012-13 Big Sky Preseason Coaches’ and Media Poll - a ranking that would leave Eastern just out of the seven-team postseason tournament. But Eastern is certainly familiar with that kind of prediction - and 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 a 12-4 league record. Last season, the Eagles were picked seventh again, and ended up finishing third overall after a 10-6 run in conference play.
• 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).