March 5, 2009
The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team had a significant challenge in front of it in order to qualify for the six-team Big Sky Conference Championship. The Eagles would have to win at Montana (25-4) for the first time since the 1986-87 season.
Unfortunately, the Grizzlies (15-1 BSC) were too strong and defeated Eastern 72-53 to set up a showdown with Portland State (15-1 BSC) for the regular-season title and hosting rights for the Championship on Saturday (March 7).
Not helping the Eagles was a Northern Arizona 64-49 win over Northern Colorado in a game that concluded during the second half of the EWU-Montana contest. That result meant that Eastern needed to win tonight to have any chance of making the Tournament.
The Eagles (10-18, 5-10 BSC) have one game left on their schedule and are only a game out of fifth place and half a game out of sixth. However, due to how the tiebreaking scenarios play themselves out, the Eagles have no mathematical chance of qualifying.
Eastern Washington played well for much of the game tonight, although a pair of significant runs by the Grizzlies put space between the teams. With Montana holding just a 15-14 lead with 10:28 left, the Grizzlies then went on a 17-3 run to take a 32-17 advantage at the 2:59 mark.
Then, the Eagles impressively kept to within 8-14 points for the majority of the second half. After a pair of Chene Cooper free throws cut Eastern's deficit to 46-38 with 8:43 left in the game, Montana put the contest away with a clutch 8-1 spurt to go up 56-39 with 6:49 showing on the clock. The Eagles would not get any close than 15 the rest of the way.
"We just could not get over the hump and cut it to six, five," head coach Wendy Schuller said of the first 11 minutes of the second half. "And when you play a good team like Montana, they are finally going to make you pay.
"I was proud of our effort tonight. Our kids battled in a tough environment, a first for quite a few of them (including three of Eastern's starters, Cooper, Pauline Ferrall and Cameryn Calhoun). They showed some moxie and poise at some critical times."
Eastern had two double-digit point scorers tonight, Julie Piper (14) and Amy Bratvold (10). Piper's came on sizzling 6-of-8 shooting. Nicole Scott set the team pace in rebounding with seven, while Chene Cooper had six. Cooper also had a game-high four steals in the contest.
Montana out-rebounded the Eagles tonight 50-31.
"They were beasts on the glass, and our effort on the boards was not quite what it should have been," Schuller said. "We have to do a better job against a good rebounding team like they are."
The Grizzlies also got to the free throw line 22 more times than Eastern did, making 31-of-41 (EWU converted 16-of-19). The remainder of the statistical categories were relatively close.
Eastern wraps up its season at 6:05 p.m. Pacific Time game on Saturday against Montana State. The Bobcats are 13-14, 7-8 in Big Sky contests. They have already clinched a Big Sky Tournament berth and are currently tied for third place.