January 20, 2009

EWU Takes on 1st-Place Portland State

Jan. 20, 2009

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The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team, currently in third place in the Big Sky Conference standings, will play host to Portland State, who is tied for the top spot, in a 2:05 p.m. showdown on Saturday (Jan. 24).

The Eagles suffered a tough defeat in their last outing, falling at home to Northern Colorado 55-53 on Thursday (Jan. 15) to drop to 3-2 in league games, 8-10 overall.

"Overall there were a lot of good aspects of that game, including out-rebounding our opponent by 17 (38-21), shooting 44 percent and holding them to 37 percent and 55 points," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "Those were very good things, but we were really disappointed in our number of turnovers (26).

"We have talked about the different ways we can take better care of the ball, including taking what people give us. We have to find out what the other team is not taking away from us offensively and go to that rather than trying to force things to happen. But, in the end, it's just something we have to do when game time comes."

The Vikings beat the Bears 92-71 in their most recent game on Saturday (Jan. 17) to move to 5-0 in the league, tied with Montana for first place, and 12-6 overall.

The Vikings are led by Claire Faucher and Kelsey Kahle. Faucher ranks ninth among NCAA Division I players in assists per game with 6.11, while Kahle leads the Big Sky in two statistical categories, points per game (16.7) and shooting percentage (52.8). Kahle also broke the Portland State school record for career points scored in that win over UNC; she now has 1,803 and is fourth on the Big Sky all-time scoring list.

"Portland State is a very good, veteran basketball team," Schuller said. "Faucher is a phenomenal point guard who really makes everybody around her a lot better. She makes the easy pass and sees the floor well.

"Kahle is obviously a phenomenal scorer and just has a knack to know how to put the ball in the basket. She does a nice job of exhibiting patience inside.

"Around them, they have a bunch of players who really shoot the ball well (Portland State as a team shoots 42.0 percent from the floor, the second-best average in the Big Sky)."

Last year, Portland State took both meetings, including a narrow 75-71 win in Cheney, Wash., on March 1, while the Eagles secured a victory in the teams' previous match-up on Feb. 15, 2007, at home by an 80-61 score. Overall, the Vikings have claimed 4-of-5 meetings.

Being Aggressive on the Boards  
           
The Eastern Washington Eagles have shown themselves to be an aggressive team this year, evidenced partly by the team's impressive rebounding numbers.

The Eagles lead the Big Sky Conference in rebounding margin (+3.1), rank second in rebounds attained (38.8 per game) and is first in least rebounds allowed (35.7). The team also leads all league schools in offensive rebounds per contest (14.89).

Eastern has tallied at least 10 offensive rebounds in its last nine games and in 15-of-18 games played this year.

Win on the Road? No Problem                
On Jan. 10, the Eagles used an 18-3 run in the first half to grab a 26-19 lead two minutes before halftime and cruise from there to a comfortable 82-68 road win over Weber State.

The win snapped a 22-game losing streak the Eagles had against the Wildcats in Ogden, Utah, as well as a nine-game losing streak in all Big Sky contests.

It was also the largest margin of victory for EWU in any Big Sky Conference road game since the Eagles won at Portland State, 77-46, on Jan. 15, 2005. It was the team's biggest win on the road in any contest since an 80-60 victory at UC Irvine on Nov. 13, 2006.

Earlier in the season, the Eagles earned an impressive 70-69 overtime victory over UNLV in the semifinals of the Lady Rebel Round-Up on Nov. 28.

That victory snapped a 14-game losing streak for Eastern in road contests (16 in games played away from home, including two neutral-site contests last year).

The last win away from home prior to that contest came on Feb. 24, 2007, when the team claimed a 66-63 road victory over Sacramento State.

The victory was Eastern's first-ever over UNLV in four tries as well as its initial one over a team in the Mountain West Conference since a 53-30 victory versus Wyoming on Jan. 10, 2004.

Halftime Deficit? No Problem                
Eastern Washington earned its first win of the 2008-09 season on Nov. 21 by an 80-70 score over San Francisco, rallying from behind to do so.

In earning the victory, the Eagles rallied from a 38-33 deficit at the half, marking their first win after trailing at the break since Feb. 24, 2007. In that earlier contest, EWU trailed Sacramento State 29-27 at the half before prevailing by a 66-63 score.

The Eagles then made it twice after the team responded to a 34-33 deficit to Montana Tech on Dec. 2 by outscoring the Orediggers 40-29 after the break in a 73-63 win.

A third occurrence came in Eastern's first Big Sky Conference game of the season on Jan. 4, when the team rallied from a 34-31 halftime deficit to defeat Northern Arizona 70-64 in overtime.

One of Best Turnarounds in Country   
            
The Eagles are in the midst of one of the best turnaround seasons in the NCAA Division I ranks this year with its 8-10 overall record and 3-2 Big Sky Conference record.

The Eagles have doubled their win total from last year's squad (4-25), one of just nine teams nationally to have already done so. Additionally, EWU has tripled its Big Sky win total from a year ago (1-15).

Eastern is one of just eight squads nationally to have already recorded four more wins than the year before. A complete list may be found on page 6 of the corresponding PDF.

Nailing Shots All Over the Court 
               
The Eagles have had some impressive shooting performances this year.

Most recently, the team shot at an outstanding 56.3 percent clip (27-of-48) on Jan. 10 in an 82-68 road win over Weber State.

That is the highest shooting percentage for Eastern Washington in any contest since the team shot 57.8 percent (26-of-45) in an 81-56 win over Portland State on Feb. 12, 2005.

Eastern also made 54.5 percent (24-of-44) in a 63-58 win over Pacific on Dec. 13 and 55.6 percent (30-of-54) in an 80-70 defeat of San Francisco on Nov. 21.

"Our shot selection was really good (in those games)," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "The players took shots that were the best shots for the team and shots they were good at knocking down."

The Eagles had not reached the 50.0 percent mark at all last year and have now done so three times in 2008-09.

The Eagles also had an amazing shooting half against Georgia on Nov. 29, making 60.0 percent from the floor (12-of-20), an impressive rebound from 30.4 percent shooting in the opening stanza (7-of-23).

The last time Eastern Washington shot that high in a half came on Dec. 21, 2007, when the Eagles made 60.6 percent of their shots (20.33) in a road game versus Pacific.

Also, the Eagles shot at a very high clip from three-point territory in that win over the Wildcats on Jan. 10, making 58.3 percent of their attempts (7-of-12). The last time that high of a three-point shooting percentage occurred on Jan. 10, 2007, in a 76-69 loss to Idaho State (also 7-of-12).

Scott Earns Co-Big Sky POW Honors                             
Junior Nicole Scott had a perfect performance on Dec. 13 and rode that 6-of-6 showing (including 2-of-2 on threes) to Big Sky Conference Co-Player of the Week accolades. She became the first Eagle to win the honor since Jamie Chicane earned accolades on Jan. 30, 2006.

Scott's perfect shooting, which included a couple of threes, came in a 63-58 home win over Pacific. It was also the best shooting percentage by an Eagle (with at least six attempts) since Felice Moore was 6-of-6 at Montana State on March 6, 2004. The Carson City, Nev., native contributed four rebounds and two steals in the win, as well.

The 6-2 forward also helped the team as a whole make 54.5 percent of its shots in that game (24-of-44), the second time this season the Eagles have made more than 50.0 percent from the floor.

Scott shared the week's honors with Montana's Mandy Morales.

She also had an outstanding game on Jan. 10 in an 82-68 win over Weber State, tallying 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field and 8-of-8 shooting from the free throw line. That point total ties for the second-best by an Eagle in 2008-09.

Scott has now made 23 straight free throws and is shooting at an 88.9 percent clip from the charity stripe this year (24-of-27). Her perfect 14-of-14 free throw shooting in league contests leads the conference.

She has been an intimidating force inside this year, as well, as her blocks per game average of 0.67 ties her for ninth in the Big Sky. She is also seventh in shooting percentage (45.5), 15th in rebounds per game (5.7) and 24th in points per game (9.8).

Resilient Ryan Turns it on in BSC Play           
Freshman Brianne Ryan has not only settled in nicely for the Eagles, but has turned it up several notches since the commencement of Big Sky Conference play.

In the league statistical rankings for conference games only, she not only far and away leads all league players in three-point shooting percentage (80.0), but is third in field goal percentage (66.7). She is also tied for 12th in three-point field goals per game (1.60) and tied for 14th in rebounds per game (5.6).

In road games with Idaho State on Jan. 8 and Weber State on Jan. 10, respectively, she shot at a sizzling 75.0 percent clip (9-of-12) and 100.0 percent from beyond the three-point arc (4-of-4). She also led the team in scoring (12.5 points per game) and rebounds per game (7.0) that week.

"Brianne has gotten better and better as the year has gone on," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "She is such a good defensive player, and she is starting to show the offensive part of her game. She has done a nice job in terms of shot selection, as well."

Jess on EWU List, Ranks Nationally       
Mid-way through her junior season, point guard Jessica Huntington has moved into the top-10 list for career assists in Eastern Washington history, as her total of 273 places her eighth.

With 9:29 remaining in the first half of an 82-68 road win over Weber State on Jan. 10, she recorded her 265th career assist on a pass to Tatjana Sparavalo for a lay-up to move into sole possession of that eighth spot. Jean Ness had previously held that placing with 264 tallied from 1978-79 through 1980-81.

Huntington also is one of the nation's best in assist-turnover ratio, as her average of 1.71 (65-to-38) is 46th-best among all NCAA Division I players.

In the Big Sky Conference statistical rankings, she is fourth in assist-turnover ratio and seventh in assists per game (3.61).

Powerful Piper Shows Clutch Form                
Julie Piper had an outstanding weekend of play to start the 2008-09 Big Sky Conference season, as she averaged 18.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game in wins over Northern Arizona and Sacramento State on Jan. 2 and 4, respectively.

In addition to shooting at an impressive 52.0 percent clip (13-of-25), she led the team in steals with five and tied for the team pace in assists with five and blocks with two.

Against the Lumberjacks on Jan. 2, a 70-64 overtime win, she hit several big shots and grabbed a couple of clutch rebounds.

With 1:37 left in the second half, Piper grabbed an offensive rebound before scoring 13 seconds later to give Eastern a 58-56 lead. Then, with just 14 seconds left, she hit a jumper to tie the game at 60. Piper also secured a key defensive rebound with three seconds left to send the game to overtime.

In the extra session, she converted a jump shot with 34 seconds left to give Eastern a 66-64 lead on its way to the 70-64 win.

Against the Hornets in a 69-64 win two days later, she contributed 21 points, the highest-scoring game any Eagle has posted so far in 2008-09.

"Piper had a really good weekend, well earned for her," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "She works so hard day in and day out, and it's great when everything comes together. She played extremely hard, offensively and defensively."

Piper has played at a high level throughout the season, ranking in several Big Sky Conference statistical categories: sixth in rebounding (7.2), ninth in free throw shooting (76.0 percent), tied for ninth in blocks (0.67 per game) and tied for 19th in scoring (10.5 points per game).

Perhaps most impressively, Piper is the Big Sky leader in offensive rebounds per game with 3.56.

Piper has also tallied at least eight points in 14 of Eastern's 18 games played so far this year. The sophomore has led the team in rebounding in 12 contests, including in seven of Eastern's last eight outings.

Kyla Nails Shots from Everywhere           
Sophomore guard Kyla Evans has shot lights out so far in 2008-09, as she ranks highly among the top 75 NCAA Division I players in both three-point baskets made per game (59th, 2.3) and three-point shooting percentage (72nd, 37.8).

She is second in the league in three-pointers per game and 10th in both overall (54.5 percent) and three-point shooting percentage.

"I have been pleased with Kyla and the way she has shot the three," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "We've also talked to her about hunting for her shot because we know teams are going to be focusing on closing her down."

In fact, Evans is listed in four different Big Sky statistical categories. She is also 15th in scoring (11.1 points per game).

Her career three-point makes of 94 have already placed her fifth in Eagle history in that category. This feat is especially impressive when you consider she is half-way through her sophomore season and had missed 11 games her freshman campaign due to an injury.

Evans shot extremely well in Eastern's 80-70 defeat of San Francisco on Nov. 21, as she made 8-of-10 shots. The three-point specialist was covered tightly on the outside that night and adjusted her game by taking shots from nearly every spot on the court, only two of them from three-point range.

She finished with 20 points in that game, tied for the second-highest point total posted by any Eagle so far in 2008-09.

"Kyla really improved her mid-range game this summer, spending a lot of time working on pull-up jumpers and those kinds of moves," Schuller said. "That was what she really had to pull out of her bag against San Francisco because they were not letting her get any open looks. She did a really nice job knocking those shots down."

Against Southeastern Conference-member Georgia on Nov. 29, she also shot at an impressive clip, making 6-of-8 attempts, 4-of-5 from three-point range.

Evans then made more than 50.0 percent of her three-point shots for the third time in 10 outings this season when she nailed 5-of-8 from beyond the arc (5-of-9 overall) versus Utah State on Dec. 6.

Excellence from the Free Throw Line             
A year ago, the Eastern Washington Eagles set a school record with its top-notch free throw shooting. That squad nailed 73.3 percent of its charity tosses, breaking the school record set the year before (71.2).

The 2007-08 Eagles really turned on its free-throw shooting during Big Sky play, converting 75.4 percent of its attempts during that portion of the schedule.

Eighteen games into the 2008-09 campaign, the Eagles are hitting at a 70.4 percent clip (221-of-314). In the four Big Sky contests, the team has made 73.1 percent of its charity tosses (76-of-104).

And the Honors Go To ...                               
Eastern Washington as a team was once again honored over the summer, being named to the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Academic Top 25 Honor Roll.

It marked the seventh consecutive season the Eagles had ranked 10th or higher in the rankings. That span included a No. 1 ranking in 2003-04.

Eagles Picked Ninth 
                   
Eastern Washington was picked ninth in the Big Sky Conference preseason coaches and media polls.

The two polls were nearly identical. Both picked Montana to win the title, and the Grizzlies were followed, in order, by Portland State, Montana State, Northern Colorado, Northern Arizona, Weber State/Idaho State (WSU was sixth in the coaches poll and seventh in the media poll, while ISU was seventh and sixth, respectively), Sacramento State and the Eagles.

"Our team is hungry this year," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "We have a great group of players who really play hard for each other.

"We had a rough year last year and a rough off-season, and those memories have set with a lot of us. We also have new players who are determined not to let those types of things happen."

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