Eagles and Bengals come in with identical Big Sky records - winner will likely earn the three-seed in the conference tournament
Eastern vs. Idaho State
Thursday, March 7 | 6:05 p.m. PST
Reese Court | Cheney, Wash.
Game Notes | Live Webcast | Live Stats
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Eastern vs. Weber State
Saturday, March 9 | 2:05 p.m. PST
Reese Court | Cheney, Wash.
Game Notes | Live Webcast | Live Stats
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The Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team will be at home this week to wrap up its 2012-13 regular season. While the Eagles already know their season will continue in the Big Sky Conference tournament, seeding for that event depends entirely on what happens in this final weekend of action. But actually, for head coach Wendy Schuller and her squad, the bigger priority this weekend will be momentum and chemistry heading into the postseason.
“The first thing we’re focused on is playing well,” said Schuller. “We want to go into the tournament playing our best basketball of the year. I think we are meshing together, and playing well together right now. Our chemistry is really good, there is no snippiness on the team that I think you can sometimes have toward the end of a long year. Our team loves being around each other and loves playing together. But on Thursday, we are going to face a tremendous test against another really good, veteran team that is palsy playing really good basketball right now.”
With more than two months gone by since their last meeting, Eastern faces Idaho State on Thursday (March 7) in a battle for third place in the standings. The Eagles and Bengals come in with an identical 12-6 league record.
While Sacramento State still has a chance to sneak up, as it is just one game back at 11-7, the winner of Thursday’s game will likely earn the three-seed in the 2013 Big Sky Conference tournament. Although, with only two games separating the third through sixth-place teams, a number of tiebreaker scenarios could still occur.
Following Thursday’s showdown with the Bengals, EWU will host Weber State on Saturday (March 9) in its home finale. Prior to tipoff, the Eagles will honor its three senior members in Carrie Ojeda, Courtney Nolen and Jordan Schoening.
The Wildcats come in to the week with a 0-27 record in the 2012-13 campaign - the only team in Division I women's basketball that has yet to win a game this year.
“In terms of seeding, we are battling for that three seed,” said Schuller. “Idaho State probably feels the same way we do in the advantage of that would be avoiding the host team as long as possible. As the three, as long as you’re winning, you don’t have to see the one-seed until the championship game. But beyond that, I don’t know if there’s a lot of advantage. I think in our league, one through seven are all really good, and I couldn’t event pick a team I’d want to face if I had my choice between four, five, six or seven. Everybody has something different they bring to the table, and a different element that makes them good. In this league, as we’ve seen even in the past few years in the tournament, any team can beat any other team on a given night.”
The 2013 Big Sky Conference tournament will be held at the site of the regular-season champion, which right now, is a battle between Montana and Northern Colorado. Heading into the final weekend, the Lady Griz have a half-game lead on UNC, but if the Bears win their final game against Southern Utah on Thursday, and Montana loses just one of their remaining two against NAU or Sac State, the right to host and that automatic bid to the semis will come down to tiebreakers.
IDAHO STATE PREVIEW
It has been so long since EWU and Idaho State first played each other, that it really doesn’t do much good to look back at that meeting, which occurred in a different calendar year. But Eastern did win that contest on Dec. 22 in Pocatello by a score of 61-55. The Eagles held ISU to 28.6 percent shooting from the floor, and a dismal 1-of-18 effort from beyond the arc. But the Bengals have certainly turned it around since then, winning 11 of their last 14 games. ISU is now shooting a much-improved 37.6 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from three - the second-best average in the league, behind EWU of course.
“In a lot of ways, Idaho State is a system team. They play a specific style of basketball, and they play it well,” said Schuller. “But right now, they are playing particularly good basketball, and when we saw them back in December, they weren’t shooting the ball as well, so I think they are definitely going to be different in terms of their confidence level. Winning games makes you a different team just on its own, and they have seniors just like we do that want to go out on a high note.”
The Bengals are led by a pair of seniors in 6-1 forward Ashleigh Vella and 5-5 guard Kaela Oakes, who have combined for an average of 25 points per game in conference play. Juniors Lindsey Reed and Cydney Horton are also a concern, averaging 9.9 and 8.3 points, respectively.
Thursday’s game might be somewhat of a shootout behind the 3-point line, as ISU has three players ranked in the top 10 in 3-point field goal percentage, and EWU has four. In fact, those four Eastern players, Lexie Nelson, Hayley Hodgins, Aubrey Ashenfelter and Kylie Huerta, are all ranked in the top seven in terms of efficiency. In the last 12 games, those four players have combined for 67 made threes. Oakes is the biggest threat for ISU, as she averages 1.4 per game on 44.1 percent.
Along with shooting it well from distance, the Bengals rank second in the league in both scoring defense and field goal percentage defense. In its previous 18 conference games, ISU has held teams to just 53.8 points per game. But as the best shooting team in the league from the field and free throw line, Eastern could certainly put that to the test.
The all-time series between EWU and ISU stands at an almost even 32-29, with Idaho State holding the slight advantage. The Eagles are 15-14 when playing in Cheney, but the Bengals have won six of the last seven meetings at Reese Court. The last eight-consecutive games played between these two teams have all been decided by 10 points or less.
WEBER STATE PREVIEW
While on paper, Saturday’s game seems like an easy win for the Eags, EWU will not overlook its last opponent of the regular season. Although winless on the season, two of Weber State's last four Big Sky losses were by six points or less.
The Wildcats do not have any major scoring threats, as no one on the team is averaging more than nine points per game. But there are four players who all average seven or more.
In the first meeting of the 2012-13 season between these two teams, EWU scored a season-high 88 points on a season-high 55.2 percent from the floor. Four different players scored in double-figures, including junior Aubrey Ashenfelter, who posted a personal season-high of 18 points.
While the all-time series lies in favor of WSU at 40-25, Eastern has won the last nine-consecutive games against the Wildcats.
- Saturday’s game will be the final home outing for seniors Carrie Ojeda, Courtney Nolen and Jordan Schoening - all of whom were members of EWU’s 2012 Big Sky Championship team and have helped EWU to winning seasons three of their four years in the program.
- Do date, this trio has won 64 games, and earned a Big Sky record of 42-24.
- Ojeda has played in a total of 115 games so far in her career to rank eighth all-time at EWU. She also appears in the record book for career blocks, currently ranking fifth with 119.
- Schoening is expected to earn her fourth-consecutive Big Sky All-Academic honor this is, as an elementary education/heath and fitness major.
Other Eagle News & Notes You Should Know
TOP 40 IN EFFICIENCY: Eastern Washington ranks
among the top 40 in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage and
free throw percentage. The Eagles are No. 1 in the conference in
both categories, while also ranking first in the Big Sky in overall
field goal percentage. EWU is converting 36 percent of its shots
from downtown to 17th among all Division I teams. In league-only
games, EWU is shooting 38 percent from distance. Eastern averages
5.8 3-point field goals per game. Eastern has three different
players who rank in the top eight in the conference in 3-point
field goal percentage, including Lexie Nelson (4th), Hayley Hodgins
(5th) and Aubrey Ashenfelter (6th). In the last 12 games, those
three players, plus point guard Kylie Huerta, have combined for 67
made threes. At the charity stripe, EWU is converting 75 percent of
its shots, which ranks 36th nationally. Again, that average has
been even better in conference play at 78 percent.
OJEDA CLIMBING THE CHARTS: Senior Carrie Ojeda now ranks among the top 10 in EWU history in two different career categories. With two blocks in against NAU on Feb. 7, Ojeda moved into fifth place on EWU's all-time career blocks list, surpassing Kathleen Nygaard, who had 115 in her four years (2002-04) with the Eagles. Ojeda since improved that total to 119 blocks - just 18 from catching Nicolle Scott in fourth place with 137. Ojeda has appeared in 115 career games for the Eagles, which ranks eighth all-time. With a guaranteed three more games on the 2012-13 slate, Ojeda will move up to at least fifth place before her career comes to an end, pending she remains healthy for the rest of the season.
CAREER-HIGH COINCIDENCE: Redshirt-freshman Hayley Hodgins has had two 20-point performances this season, and both came against the Vikings of Portland State on the 21st day of the month. Hodgins went 7-of-8 from the field and 7-of-8 at the free throw line against PSU on Feb. 21 for a career-high 24 tallies. In the Jan. 21 meeting with the Vikings in Portland, Hodgins scored 22 points. But Hodgins is not the only Eagle that has set a career-high mark in the last month. In fact, in three of the last four games, EWU has had three different players earn a carer-high in scoring. Just before Hodgins' 24 against PSU, junior Laura Hughes had a career-high-tying 20 points to lead EWU to a win on the road agaisnt Southern Utah (Feb. 16), and in Eastern's most recent game at North Dakota (March 2), senior Carrie Ojeda tallied a career-high 21 points.
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 this year's Big Sky Preseason Coaches’ and Media Poll - a ranking that had Eastern not even qualifying for the seven-team postseason tournament. But alas, EWU has already clinched a berth, and is currently fighting for as high as a three-seed. That kind of preseason ranking, and proving it wrong, is nothing new for the Eagles though. 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 impressive 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.
CHASING/ACHIEVING MILESTONES: This season,
Wendy Schuller won her 150th game as EWU’s head coach - it
came in the 75-72 home win over North Dakota on Jan. 17. That
started a five-game winning streak for the Eagles, who have now won
eight of the last 10 since that day. While she's already reached
one milestone, Schuller has potential to reach another. In her 12
years at the helm, the Eagles have never won 20 games in a season.
They have come close the last couple, with 16 in 2011-12 and 19 in
200-10, but with guaranteed three games left on this year's slate,
Schuller could come awfully close. If EWU wins its last two
regular-season games, and first two tournament games, Schuller will
have her first 20-win season. Also, in her EWU tenure, the Eagles
have advanced to the conference tournament eight times, but have
never played for a championship. The Eagles have made it through to
the semis in five of those eight trips, but that's the
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. Nelson is No. 1 in the conference in free-throw percentage and among the top 30 in the nation at 86.1 percent on the season.
AFTER ROCK START TO 2013, EAGLES ARE ROLLING : Eastern Washington won five games in a row from Jan. 17 - Jan. 31, and has won nine of its last 11. This hot streak started with the 75-72 win against UND, which coincidentally was head coach Wendy Schuller's' 150th victory at Eastern. During this stretch, the Eagles have shot 43 percent from the field and 38 percent from three. In the first five games of 2013, EWU was shooting just 36.8 percent from the floor, and 35.5 percent from three, which resulted in a 1-3 start to the new calendar year.
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.
REGARDING ASSIST/TURNOVER RATIO: In games that Eastern has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.8 or higher, the Eagles are 14-2. When the assist-to-turnover ratio is below 0.8, the team is 2-7. EWU is 10-0 this year when committing less turnovers than its opponent, and 10-1 when tallying more assists. On the season, the Eagles rank third out of 11 teams in the conference in assist/turnover ratio at 0.9. In its last time at Reese Court (against Portland State), the Eagles had a season-best assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.6 with 18 assists and just five turnovers. The Eagles also had a 25-0 advantage in points off turnovers in that game against the Viks.
HOLD 'EM to 60/40: In the 2012-13 season, Eastern is 13-2 when holding teams to less than 40 percent shooting from the field, and 10-0 when its opponent scores fewer than 60 points.
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 13 of the last 18 games for an 13-5 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.
WILLIAMS HAS 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.
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 nine games this year decided by less than 10 points, EWU is 8-3.
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 .520 or better winning percentage at this point in the season. 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.