Eagles Aim for Sixth-Straight Win Saturday in Home Meeting Against Montana State

Eastern has won three in a row against the Bobcats, and seven of the last 10 meetings in Cheney

Upcoming Games

Eastern vs. Montana State
Saturday, Jan. 5 | 2:05 p.m. PT
Reese Court | Cheney, Wash.

Coverage

Game Notes | Live Stats | Mobile Stats | Live Webcast


The Eastern Washington women’s basketball team is on a roll, and not at all interested in slowing down.

Riding a five-game winning streak, which includes a perfect 3-0 start to the Big Sky Conference season, the Eagles will look to keep the magic alive on Saturday (Jan. 5) when they host Montana State (8-4, 2-1 Big Sky) at 2:05 p.m. at Reese Court.

“I don’t really know of a better way to say it than we’re just ‘figuring it out,’” said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. “Each time we step on the floor, we seem to get a little bit better in terms of playing to each other’s strengths and understanding that this player does best with the ball in this spot and this player does good here.

Defensively, it’s the same deal. We’re just figuring it out. I think good defensive teams are the ones that cover for each other - ones that can slide over and help when somebody needs help or can emergency switch when you need to. I think we still have a long ways to go, but this team is focused at practice, they play extremely hard, and we've just been able to get better every time we step on the floor.”

This flourishing Eastern team will face a tough Montana State squad that is coming off an 81-74 road win at Portland State on Thursday (Jan. 3). The Bobcats won six of their first seven games of the 2012-13 season, but have since lost three of the last five.

What to Expect on Saturday:

Saturday’s game will pit two of the league’s most efficient offensive teams against one another, as Montana State ranks first in the Big Sky in field goal percentage (41.3), followed closely by EWU in third (39.8). The Bobcats are also the top team in the league in terms of field goal percentage defense, and they rank in the top three in rebounding and steals.

But one thing MSU does not do well is shoot the three - an area Eastern has excelled at this year. The Bobcats average just 3.1 threes per game - the fewest in the Sky - and shoot just 24.7 percent from beyond the arc. The Eagles, on the other hand, boast the best 3-point field goal percentage in the league at 35.1, and make an average of 5.5 per game.

The key for Eastern will be limiting MSU’s touches down low, while the Bobcats will have to step up their perimeter defense to have a chance against EWU.

“I know that Montana State has one of the best post players in our league in [Rachel] Semansky,” said Schuller. “She can be physical and really dominate the paint. They are going to work to get it to her all night. We have to do our best to keep the ball out of the inside. Montana State also looks for early offense, so we’ll also have to do a great job defensively in transition.”

Semansky, an All-Big Sky second-team selection in 2011-12, averages 13.7 points per game on a conference-leading 57.4 percent from the field. She had 22 points on Thursday against Portland State, including a perfect 12-of-12 at the free throw line. But Semansky is not in fact Montana State’s leading scorer. Sophomore guard Kalli Durham has paced the Bobcats this year, averaging 14.0 points per game.  

The Series:

Since becoming a member of Division I athletics in 1983-84, Eastern has earned a 28-33 record against Montana State. The teams are dead even at 15-15 when playing at Reese Court. The Eagles have won the last three in a row against MSU, and seven of the last 10 played in Cheney. EWU swept the 2011-12 regular-season series, winning by a six-point margin at home and a more lopsided 66-52 victory in Bozeman. Before that, the two teams met in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Big Sky Conference tournament, and the No. 6-seeded Eagles upset the No. 3-seeded Bobcats, 77-68. That win served as a bit of redemption for EWU after the Bobcats had knocked EWU out of the postseason in 2009-10, when Eastern hosted the tournament as the No. 1 seed.

Other Game Notes:

• On Saturday, EWU head coach Wendy Schuller will be going for her 150th win at Eastern. Her career record as a head coach currently stands at 149-185 (.446). Schuller is 77-92 in Big Sky Conference play.

• Once teammates, EWU redshirt-freshman Kayleigh Ryan and Montana State true freshman Jasmine Hommes will compete as rivals on Saturday when the Eagles host MSU. Both graduates of Lynden Christian High School in Lynden, Wash., Ryan and Hommes played together for three years during their prep careers. Hommes was a two-time All-State selection for the Lyncs and the Northwest Conference MVP in 2011.

Fast Look at the [Probable] Starting Five


#13 | LEXIE NELSON (GUARD)

• Her first official year in red and white, Nelson is the leading scorer on the team, while ranking second overall in the Big Sky with an average of 15.3 points per game. She has had two games this year with 20+ points, and has hit three 3-pointers in six different outings, which incldues the last two in a row.
• Along with her ability to score, Nelson has proved to be a valuable passer for the Eagles as well. After averaging just 1.8 assists in the first five games of the year, Nelson has nearly doubled that average over the last seven, averaging 3.4 per game.
• Shooting 85 percent from the free throw line this season, Nelson is among the top five players in the league in that category, while ranking in the top 60 nationally. She has earned more trips to the free throw line than any other player on the team, and has only missed nine of her 61 total attempts.
• Nelson is a transfer from conference-rival Montana. A 2010 graduate of Butte (Mont.) HS and the 2010 Montana Gatorade Player of the Year, Nelson started her collegiate career as a true freshman with the Lady Griz in 2010-11. She started six of Montana’s first nine games that year and played in 32 of 33 total. She finished the season with 31 assists and a scoring average of 3.3. Following her rookie year, Nelson opted to bring her talents to Cheney. Nelson sat out the 2011-12 season due to NCAA transfer rules.

#21 | CARRIE OJEDA (CENTER)

• Eastern's most recent contest against Montana (Jan. 3) marked the 100th appearance for Ojeda in her Eagle career. She has started 66 of those 100 games, and played a total of 1,798 minutes.
• Averaging a team-leading 7.7 rebounds per game, Ojeda ranks among the top five in the Big Sky in that category. She posted a career-high 17 boards in the season debut against Pacific (Nov. 11), and had 11 at Cal State Fullerton (Nov. 24) and again at Boise State (Dec. 7). She has had at least five boards in 9 of 11 games this year.
• Ojeda recorded her 100th-career block earlier this season, and now has a total of 104 in her tenure. She ranks seventh in the EWU all-time career record book in that category, and is second among all active players in the Big Sky. Ojeda says shot blocking is by far her favorite part of the game.
• Including three already this season - which is third-most among all players in the Big Sky - Ojeda has posted nine double-doubles throughout her career.

#30 | CHENISE PAKOOTAS (GUARD)

• Pakootas has had at least one steal in eight of 12 games this year, and has had a career-high four steals on three different occasions. She is leading the Eagles in that statistical category, averaging 1.8 per game, which also ranks among the top 15 in the Big Sky.
• After averaging 13.6 minutes as a sophomore off the bench, Pakootas has doubled her playing time this season, averaging 25.3 minutes as a starter.
• Pakootas was the most efficient 3-point shooter in the Big Sky Conference in 2011-12, converting 40 percent of her long-range shots. She is currently averaging just over one 3-pointer per game, but had a career-high four this year against the nationally-ranked California Golden Bears (Nov. 23).

#32 | AUBREY ASHENFELTER (GUARD)

• A true utility player for the Eagles, Ashenfelter has had least five points, three assists and four rebounds in four of the last five games. She has scored in double figures five times this season, and earned her first-career double-double earlier in the year against Portland (Nov. 18), with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
• Currently, Ashenfelter is among the top three most efficient 3-point shooters in the Big Sky at 46.2 percent. Last year as a sophomore, she was making just 29.7 percent of her shots from long range. Ashenfelter has had at least one triple in 10 of 12 games this year.
• With 1,534 minutes logged thus far in her career, Ashenfelter is the second-most experienced player on the team. She appeared in all 31 games as a true freshman in 2010-11 and started 29 of 30 last year. But the coaches have asked her responsibilities to change this year, from a role player to a more aggressive, more consistent scorer.
• Ashenfelter is a two-time Big Sky All-Academic honoree.

#42 | MELISSA WILLIAMS (FORWARD)

• Williams has had a career-high 10 rebounds three different times this year. She has led the team in that category in six of the last seven games, and is currently among the top 20 in the league, averaging just under six boards per game.
• Williams was one of only two true freshmen in the Big Sky to start every game of the 2011-12 season.
• As a rookie in 2011-12, Williams had at least five rebounds in 11 of 16 conference games, and improved her shooting efficiency from 39 percent in the non-conference season to 46 percent in league play.

First Off the Bench


#4 | KYLIE HUERTA (POINT GUARD)

• After scoring a combined 17 points in the first six games of the year, Huerta has put up 45 tallies in the last six games combined, including a game-high and career-high 15 against defending Big Sky Champion, Idaho State (Dec. 22). She also had just five assists through the first five games of the year, but has dished out 28 since.
• Huerta is a 2011 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., which is the same school that produced Gonzaga legend and current WNBA star Courtney Vandersloot, as well as Nebraska four-year starter Lindsey Moore, who is a 2013 preseason Wade List and Naismith Trophy candidate…Huerta was the direct successor of these two nationally-acclaimed point guards…Kentwood is also the alma-mater of EWU men’s basketball great, Rodney Stuckey.

#25 | HAYLEY HODGINS (GUARD)

• Coming off her redshirt-freshman year, Hodgins has played in 11 of 12 games for EWU this year, averaging 12.3 minutes, 3.5 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.
• She had a career-high seven rebounds in Eastern’s game against Warner Pacific, and has hit at least one 3-pointer in three of the last five games.
• A 2011 graduate of Chiawana High School in Pasco, Wash., Hodgins was a two-time Columbia Basin Big Nine Cascade Division First-Team selection and was honored on the Seattle Time All-State Second Team.

#54 | LAURA HUGHES (CENTER)

• Hughes started the first two games of the year for Eastern, but has come off the bench in the last 10 for an average of 17.3 minutes per game.
• The 6-2 junior center is currently the fourth-leading scorer on the team, averaging 7.3 points per game. She has scored in double figures in three outings this year, including a career-high 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting in a narrow loss to Idaho on Nov. 27. She led the team with 18 points in its conference debut on Dec. 20 against Weber State, and currently ranks among the top 10 in the Big Sky in field goal percentage at 46.3 percent on the season.

Eagle News & Notes

HOT STARTS: Eastern Washington currently sits atop the Big Sky standings with a perfect 3-0 start in the 2012-13 campaign. Eastern's best Big Sky start in history came just three seasons ago in 2009-10 when EWU won the regular-season title. After starting the league season with seven-straight wins, the Eags went on to first 12-4 for the school's first-ever Big Sky regular-season title.

EFFICIENT EAGLES...ESPEICIALLY FROM THREE: Almost halfway through the entire season, and three games into its Big Sky slate, Eastern Washington has proved to be one of the most offensively efficient teams in the league. The Eagles rank third in the Big Sky in field goal percentage (39.8), second free throw percentage (71.9), and first in 3-point field goal percentage (35.1). Eastern has shot 40 percent or better from the field in five of its last seven games, while its percentage from three has also been above 40 in four of the last five. Eastern’s most dangerous threats on the perimeter are junior guard Aubrey Ashenfelter and sophomore guard Lexie Nelson, who currently rank among the top 10 in both 3-point field goals made and 3-point field goal percentage. Ashenfelter has made 18 treys this year on 46.2 percent shooting - the third-best in the Big Sky - while Nelson has knocked down 23 on 39.7 percent.

PUSH POINTS: In its last five games, all of which were wins,, Eastern has averaged 68 points per game. That is 13 points more than its average from the first seven games of the year. In its first three Big Sky Conference games, Eastern has averaged nearly 70 points per game, which ranks third in league-only statistics. Looking at what happens on the other side of the floor, the Eags rank second in scoring defense, allowing its Big Sky opponents an average of just 57 points per game. Overall in the 2012-13 season, EWU has compiled a 5-0 record when holding teams to fewer than 60 points.

SHARING THE WEALTH...ON OFFENSE: Eastern has had six different players lead the team in scoring this year. Sophomore Lexie Nelson has had seven team-high performances, while senior Carrie Ojeda, juniors Aubrey Ashenfelter, Chenise Pakootas and Laura Hughes, and sophomore Kylie Huerta have all led in points at least once. Eastern has had at least three different players score in double-figures in three of the last five games.

SHARING THE WEALTH...ON DEFENSE: Eastern is also a versatile rebounding team, as seven different players have led on the glass 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 this year.

IMPORTANCE OF AN EARLY LEAD: Eastern is 7-1 this year when leading at the half, and conversely, 0-4 when trailing at intermission. In fact, in four of its seven wins this year, EWU has had a double-digit lead after the first 20 minutes.

REGARDING ASSIST/TURNOVER RATIO: Similar to the record discrepancy in regards to halftime scores, EWU is 4-0 this year when committing less turnovers than its opponent, and is 5-1 when tallying more assists.  In games that Eastern has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.8 or higher, the Eagles are 6-1. When the assist-to-turnover ratio is below 0.8, the team is 1-4. Rebounds, free throws, 3-pointers and even field goal percentage don’t seem to have as much effect on EWU’s ability to win as the assist/turnover ratio.

NOT ONE FOR THE NAIL-BITER: So far, eight of Eastern’s 12 games this year have been decided by 10 or more points. The Eagles have split evenly in those double-digit games, with four wins and four losses. The Eagles have 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.

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 most recent 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.
 
PEAK PERFORMERS

• Sophomore Lexie Nelson poured in career-high 23 points on a 7-of-12 performance from the floor to lead Eastern to a 68-50 rout of Portland (Nov. 18) - its first win of the 2012-13 season. Nelson drained three 3-pointers and made 6-of-7 from the charity stripe. All this came in the midst of suffering a bloody nose midway through the game. She had 20 points in Eastern’s win at Boise State (Dec. 7), where she made 7-of-13 from the field, 3-of-6 from long range and 3-of-3 from the free-throw line. She also had five rebounds and three assists against BSU.

• Sophomore Kylie Huerta turned in the best weekend of her career in Eastern’s 2012-13 Big Sky openers against Weber State and Idaho State. Against the Wildcats, she was nearly flawless, converting 3-of-3 field goals, 1-of-1 free throws, and tallying a career-high seven assists with just one turnover. Two days later at Idaho State, she led the team to victory with a career-high 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting.

• Junior Laura Hughes had a career-night in Eastern’s road game at Idaho on Nov. 27. The 6-2 center made 8-of-12 shots from the floor and went a perfect 4-of-4 from the line for a career-high and team-leading 20 points. She also led EWU on the glass with nine rebounds, and contributed one steal. She had 16 points in the second half, which helped EWU overcome a 12-point halftime deficit and take a lead with five minutes remaining in the game. Hughes also made 8-of-12 shots in Eastern’s win at Weber State, for a team-leading 18 points.

• Junior Aubrey Ashenfelter had an impressive stat line in Eastern’s first win against Portland (Nov. 18). The 6-0 guard posted her first-career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, but she also tied her career-high in assists with six, and tallied two steals and one block. Ashenfelter was 5-of-8 against the Pilots, after going just 4-of-17 in the first two outings of 2012-13. In the very next game against nationally-ranked California, Ashenfelter made 5-of-11 shots, including two 3-pointers, for a team-leading 12 points, to go along with four assists, three rebounds and two steals. But her season-high scoring mark came in the Big Sky debut at Weber State (Dec. 20), where she had 18 points, with four 3-pointers and 6-of-6 from the charity stripe.

• Senior Carrie Ojeda hauled in a career-high 17 rebounds in the 2012-13 season debut against Pacific (Nov. 11). She also added 14 points for her first double-double of the year, and the seventh in her career. Ojeda had 10 defensive rebounds and seven on the offensive glass to lead all players in the game by at least seven. She also led Eastern in assists (4) and blocked shots (4) in that game. Ojeda notched her second double-double of the season with 11 points and 11 rebounds in a 50-45 win over Cal State Fullerton (Nov. 24).

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.

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