February 23, 2009

Big Game Awaits Eagles in Portland

Feb. 23, 2009

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The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team will most likely need to win 2-of-3 down the stretch to reach the six-team Big Sky Conference Championship. That trio of pivotal contests starts at 2:05 p.m. at Portland State on Saturday (Feb. 28).

The Eagles lost at Northern Colorado 80-58 in their last outing to drop to 5-8 in Big Sky contests and into a four-way tie for fifth place in the league standings. Meanwhile, the Vikings won at UNC by an 89-71 score to improve to 12-1, tied with Montana for the league's top spot. Portland State also has three games remaining on its schedule heading into this week.

Incredibly, the Big Sky standings see the third- and eighth-place teams separated by just a single game, incredible given that the season is just three games away from seeing its conclusion.

Eastern Washington is 10-16 overall, while the Vikings, who are riding a five-game winning streak, are 19-7. When the teams met in Cheney on Jan. 24, the Eagles out-shot and out-rebounded the Vikings, but were hurt by 18 turnovers and poor three-point shooting (1-of-8) in a 65-55 loss.

In order to be successful Saturday, the Eagles need to "be better defensively and have to play with a lot more determination," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "This week, we are going to evaluate which players are bringing the energy to the floor and doing what we are asking defensively. Offensively, we need to wait on screens, and we have to set up screens.

"We also need Julie Piper on the floor. She has been getting into foul trouble early and was not in there for much of the first half the other day (including during a 21-0 Northern Colorado run), as well as other games recently, and that hurts a lot."

Saturday's game will be Portland State's final regular-season home game of 2008-09.

Following the contest, both the Eagles and the Vikings will close out the regular season with a trip to the Treasure State. Eastern Washington will face Montana and Montana State on March 5 and 7, respectively, while Portland State takes on those same two teams on the reverse dates.

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 least rebounds allowed per game (35.1) and is just behind Montana in rebounding margin (+2.96 to +3.04). Eastern Washington does, however, hold the edge when Big Sky games only are considered with a +4.7 advantage (Portland State is second at +4.4).

The Eagles also lead all league schools in offensive rebounds per contest (14.77). 

Eastern has tallied at least 10 offensive rebounds in 16 of its last 17 games. The Eagles have had at least 20 offensive boards on four occasions this year.

Perhaps most impressively, the team outrebounded Montana State by 20 in a 90-75 win on Jan. 29 over the Bobcats, 48-28.

The last time Eastern outrebounded any team by at least 20 came in a 54-40 win over Weber State on Feb. 16, 2006, as the Eagles had 25 more rebounds than the Wildcats that night, 49-24.  

"One of our goals this year was to be one of the best rebounding teams in our league, and we have really done a nice job of that," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "Julie (Piper) is probably our most consistent rebounder, but a lot of our rebounding is by committee.

"I was extremely proud of our effort (against Montana State) on the defensive end and to outrebound a team by 20 is phenomenal. I told our team that was an even better stat than our three-point shooting (13 makes, one away from the school record)."

What a 3-Point Shooting Performance!                
In Eastern Washington's 90-75 win over Montana State Jan. 29, the Eagles nearly tied the school record for three-point baskets in a game with 13. Eastern made 48.1 percent of its attempts from beyond the arc in that game (13-of-27).

The record the team came close to eclipsing was set by the 1998-99 squad, when that team made 14 in a 75-48 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Dec. 5, 1998.

The 15-point margin of victory was also the best by an Eastern team in a Big Sky Conference game since a 68-47 win over Northern Colorado on March 1, 2007.

Meanwhile, the 90 points scored was the most by EWU in any game since a 103-102 overtime loss to Gonzaga on Dec. 9, 2006. It also marked the first time Eastern Washington had hit the 90-point mark in regulation time against an NCAA Division I opponent since a 91-54 victory over Sacramento State on Feb. 12, 2004.

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 10-16 overall record and 5-8 Big Sky Conference record.

The Eagles have more than doubled their win total from last year's squad (4-25) and has improved significantly on its Big Sky win total from a year ago (1-15).

Eastern is one of just 17 squads nationally to have already recorded six or more wins than the year before.

EWU is also just one of 10 teams to increase its win total by 250 percent or more from last year.

Complete lists may be found on page 7 of the corresponding PDF.

Big Wins on the Road                      
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 victory 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 away 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 victory over the Rebels came on Feb. 24, 2007, when the team claimed a 66-63 road victory over Sacramento State.

The win 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.

What Halftime Deficit? 
                    
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, 66-63.

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.

Eastern Washington then made it four on Feb. 12 by storming back from a 31-28 halftime deficit to Weber State to outscore the Wildcats 41-25 after the break in its 69-56 win.

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

Most impressively, 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 marked 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 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 EWU 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).

Jess Among Best in Big Sky, Nation   
    
Point guard Jessica Huntington has had an outstanding season for the Eagles, as evidenced by her assist-turnover ratio of 1.85 (89-to-48).

That average ranks her 26th among all NCAA Division I players and second in the Big Sky. She is also seventh in the conference in assists per game (3.42).

Huntington has already moved herself into the top-10 list for most career assists in Eastern Washington history, as her current total of 297 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 helper on a pass to Tatjana Sparavalo for a lay-up. That moved her into sole possession of that eighth spot. Jean Ness had previously held that placing with 264 tallied from 1978-79 through 1980-81.

Kyla Climbs EWU Record Charts             
Sophomore guard Kyla Evans has shot lights out since arriving on the Eastern Washington campus a year ago, recently becoming just the fifth Eagle ever to tally 100 three-point baskets in a career.

She hit that milestone with her sixth of six in a 90-75 win over Montana State on Jan. 29. Evans also helped the team to 13 three-point baskets in that game, one off the school record.

Evans, who now has 109 career threes, is also already fifth in EWU annals for three-point baskets in a single season with 57 so far this year.

"Those are outstanding accomplishments," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "When we recruited Kyla, this is what we recruited her to do, shoot the three.

"Some thought we were crazy because she had to play the center spot on her high school team. They had thought, `boy, she is an undersized post for you.' We told them we were going to play her on the perimeter, because we really thought she could shoot it.

"I'm glad that our assessment was correct, and Kyla has really stepped in and backed it up."

She also ranks 78th among all NCAA Division I players this year in three-point baskets per game (2.2) and is 81st in three-point shooting percentage (36.5). She is second and eighth in those respective Big Sky rankings.

Evans is also 15th in the league in minutes per game (30.65) and 22nd in points per game (10.4).

The sophomore 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 third-highest point total posted by any Eagle so far in 2008-09.

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.

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."

In fact, Piper has played at a high level throughout the season, ranking highly in several Big Sky statistical categories. She is tied for fifth in rebounding (7.2 per game), seventh in free throw shooting (77.4 percent) and 18th in scoring (11.0 ppg).

Piper has also tallied at least eight points in 21 of Eastern's 26 games played so far this year. The sophomore has led the team in rebounding in 17 contests.

Her best scoring performance, and the best by any Eagle in 2008-09, came on Jan. 24 in Eastern's battle with first-place Portland State.

In that contest, she scored 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, EWU's best individual point total attained since Tatjana Sparavalo had 24 at Idaho State on Feb. 16, 2008.

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 put together an impressive streak of 29 straight free throws before it was finally snapped on Feb. 7 at Northern Arizona.

She is shooting at a 85.7 percent clip from the charity stripe this year (36-of-42). Her 89.7 percent shooting (26-of-29) in Big Sky games leads the league in that category.

Scott has been an intimidating force inside this year, as well, as her blocks per game average of 1.00 places is tied for fourth in the Big Sky.

She is also sixth in shooting percentage (45.6), 15th in rebounds per game (5.8) and 22nd in points per game (10.5).

"Nicole has been playing really well for us," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "She has been aggressive, offensively and defensively.  She is showing the league that she has an inside and outside game and is doing a nice job scoring both places."

Pair of Outstanding Games for Cooper            
Freshman Chene Cooper had a pair of impressive performances on Feb. 12 and 14 against Weber State and Idaho State, respectively, in Eastern Washington's final two home games of the season.

In each of those contests, she scored 14 points, significantly surpassing her previous career high of eight points. The 5-0 point guard also tied for third on the team in rebounds per game that week with 4.5.

Her 3.5 assists per game led the team, while her 1.5 steals per game tied for the team lead.

She shot 53.8 percent from the floor in those two contests (7-of-13) and made all three of her three-point attempts. She also shot 84.6 percent from the free throw line (11-of-13).

On Saturday (Feb. 21) at Northern Colorado, she made the first start of her career. In that contest, she contributed six points, four assists and two steals.

For the season, Cooper ranks in two Big Sky Conference statistical categories, as she is 10th (and tops on the team) in steals per game with 1.50 and is 12th (and second on the team) in assists per game with 2.50.

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 play.

In the league statistical rankings for conference games only, she ranks third among Big Sky players in three-point shooting percentage (43.3, 13-of-30).

In road games versus Idaho State on Jan. 8 and Weber State on Jan. 10, respectively, she shot at a sizzling 75.0 percent clip (9-of-12), 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."

Seniors Honored at Final Home Game 
  
A pair of seniors played their last home games for the Eagles on Feb. 14, Amy Bratvold and Morgan Rulon.

"They work their tails off every single day, come prepared and are engaged and ready," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "They were both named captains this year, and they have both done a tremendous job of leading our team. With six freshmen (on the team), you need to have seniors who will be great examples, on and off the floor, and those two are the epitome of that."

As Eastern Washington's captains, the duo has led the Eagles to an impressive turnaround season in 2008-09, helping raise Eastern's win total from four a year ago to 10 so far in 2008-09.

Bratvold has helped lead the Eagles to its impressive season, as she has averaged 19.8 minutes per game and has started the last 10 contests.

Her 6.5 points per game average is the fourth-best on the team, while her 3.5 rebounds per contest places her fifth on the squad. She has also tallied 19 assists and 17 steals.

A year ago, Bratvold earned Big Sky Conference All-Academic accolades and started 28 of Eastern's 29 contests. She had double-digit point totals in nine games and recorded her career-high point total of 18 against defending Big Sky champion Idaho State on Jan. 10.

Rulon has been an important part of Eastern's successes since her arrival on campus, not only serving as a leader of the team, but always ready to step in when needed.

She has seen action in 21 games so far as an Eagle, but perhaps her best performance came on Senior Day. She nailed a three just 13 seconds in the game and later had an impressive steal at halfcourt and ensuing lay-up to tie the contest 7-7.

Her five points scored in that game nearly doubled her career total (she made a pair of threes last season against Montana Tech and Marist, an NCAA second round team that year).

Rulon has also tallied nine rebounds and six assists in her time as an Eagle.

In 2007-08, she was named to the Big Sky All-Academic team.

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.

This season, the Eagles are hitting at a 72.2 percent clip (324-of-449). In Big Sky play, the team has made 74.9 percent of its charity tosses (176-of-239).

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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