March 3, 2008

Eagles Look to Thwart Title-Clinching

March 3, 2008

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After playing impressively in a 75-71 loss to Portland State on Saturday (March 1), the Eagles are looking to keep their quality play going against Montana this week, as the Lady Griz will enter Cheney for a Thursday (March 6) contest looking to clinch the Big Sky Conference's regular-season title and hosting rights for the 2008 Big Sky Championship.

If the Eagles are able to defeat the Lady Griz and Portland State wins a home game against Montana State that same night, Montana and the Vikings will play a winner-take-all contest on Saturday afternoon (March 8) for the league's No. 1 seed and the right to play host to the league's postseason tournament.

"We have a chance to be a spoiler," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "We have a chance to throw a wrench into the engine and mess things up a bit. We tried to do that Saturday and came up just a bit short.

"They are definitely playing for something, and I know they will be prepared. Robin Selvig has been around for a long time (30 years as Montana's head coach), and I know they are going to be very prepared for us."

The game with Montana will begin at 7:05 p.m., while the Eagles will play Montana State at 2:05 p.m. on Saturday to close out its 2007-08 schedule. Kari Darnell will be lone departing senior to be honored on that day.

In the Portland State game on Saturday, the Eagles (4-23, 1-13 BSC) were right with the Vikings until the very end. A 9-0 run in the middle of the second half cut a 10-point deficit to one and a Nicole Scott three gave Eastern its first lead of the game, 59-57. The Eagles also rallied from a six-point deficit with 2:43 to play to close to within 73-71 before falling 75-71.

"We continued to see improvement in that even when we went in a bit of a drought, we were able to come back out of it with a run of our own," Schuller said. "That is something we had not been able to do all year; we've played with teams and then they would go on a run and we could not match it with a run of our own to get back in the game. That's growth for our team; we played extremely hard and did everything we could to get the win, so it was disappointing to come up short."

The Eagles also had a number of outstanding individual performances that day, as Jessica Huntington had 11 assists, the most by an Eagle in five years, while she nailed all five of her shot attempts to record the first perfect game by an Eagle (with at least five attempts) in four seasons.

Nicole Scott has been simply dominating inside the last several weeks, as she has recorded five blocks in each of last five games. The sophomore also was on fire from the outside against Portland State, as she made 5-of-8 from beyond the arc (8-of-17 overall).

Sydney Benson was amazing, as well, as she nailed 7-of-9 shots in that contest. She also had nine rebounds in the game.

Montana enters Thursday's game not only with 22-5 overall and 12-2 Big Sky records, but also with a vote in the latest AP Top 25 poll. The Lady Griz has won five straight since a 91-87 road loss to arch-rival Montana State on Feb. 8. The Eagles may have lost four straight contests to Montana, but Eastern did win a thrilling 58-56 contest in Cheney on Jan. 28, 2006.

"Montana is obviously a very good basketball team," Schuller said. "We competed well the last time we played them and did a nice job three-quarters of the game; then the last 6-7 minutes we struggled and they were able to put us away with a knockout punch (EWU was down by just eight with 6:53 to go before losing 77-59)."

Montana State is in the midst of one of its best years in recent memory, as the Bobcats will enter the week 14-12, 9-5 in league play. The last time MSU had that many wins was in the 2003-04 season when that squad went 15-14. In fact, a scant two years ago Montana State was 3-23 before going 13-16 last season. The Bobcats have won two straight meetings with Eastern, although the Eagles claimed the previous five contests.

"Montana State is another team that we played well against at their place (in an 83-70 loss)," Schuller said. "They are a physical basketball team that plays extremely hard. Montana State has some good talent, especially on the perimeter. We are going to have to do a great job defensively against them and execute on the offensive end.

"But we are in a situation where I am more focused on us continuing to get better and grow, and we have two more opportunities to do that and we are going to take advantage of them."

 

Darnell to be Honored on Saturday

Kari Darnell will be honored prior to Saturday's game with Montana State as the lone departing senior on this year's team.

The 5-11 forward has seen action in 23 games so far this season and had her best performance in a road game at Weber State. In that contest, the Rathdrum, Idaho, native grabbed a career-high total of seven rebounds to go with two points and two steals.

Last season, Darnell saw time in 17 games and had six-point performances versus Corban (Nov. 17) and Idaho (Nov. 29). Darnell had five rebounds against Corban, as well.

She was also honored as a member of the Big Sky Conference's All-Academic Team for winter quarter 2007.

Prior to arriving on the Cheney campus, Darnell was a star player at Big Bend Community College, earning First Team All-NWAACC honors, as well as NWAACC All-Academic accolades.

"Kari just comes every day, works her tail off and does everything we ask," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "At times, it has probably been hard for her because she hasn't always played a ton of minutes, but the thing I admire and appreciate about Kari is that when her number has been called, she has always been ready. There have been times she has gone several games without playing a lot and, all of a sudden I need her to play 20 minutes because of foul trouble, and she has always stepped up to the plate and done what we asked.

"She is a tremendous student who does a great job in the classroom, as well. She is definitely the kind of person you need in a program."

 

Kyla's Back

Freshman guard Kyla Evans was able to return to the basketball court on Feb. 23 versus Northern Colorado for her first action since Jan. 3 at Northern Arizona.

After seeing 16 minutes of game time in that contest, the freshman played 22 minutes against Portland State on Saturday (March 1). A stress reaction in her left foot had forced her to miss 11 games.

Evans has also been writing a blog, talking about her first year as an NCAA Division I basketball player and as a college student. New blogs are available on the women's basketball page at WWW.GOEAGS.COM. Every blog in its entirety can be found under "Features" on the women's basketball home page.

On the court, Evans has shot lights out from three-point range, as she has made 2.94 three-point baskets per game and has shot 41.6 percent from beyond the arc.

Unfortunately she is no longer eligible to be ranked in the Big Sky Conference and NCAA Division I statistical charts (she needs to have played in 75 percent of Eastern's games and can only reach 62 percent with appearances in EWU's last two games).

As of Jan. 21, when Evans was last eligible, the freshman was sixth in the NCAA Division I ranks for three-point makes and 24th in percentage (first and fifth in the league in those respective categories).

Her 11.6 points per game is second on the team and, prior to her falling into the ineligible ranks, she ranked the highest among Big Sky freshmen in that category.

Evans set a school mark in three-point attempts in Eastern's game with Great Falls on Dec. 15, as she made 6-of-14 from beyond the arc (7-of-21 from the field) and scored a then-EWU season-high 22 points in that contest.

She would tie her own record for three-point attempts with 14 against San Francisco on Dec. 18.

Versus Portland on Dec. 8, Evans had her second 20-point scoring performance of the year (she also had that many points against Nevada on Nov. 15).

Evans had an incredible start to her collegiate career, as the freshman nailed eight of her first 10 three-point shots.

She has two spots in the EWU record book, as Evans is currently ninth in three-point baskets in a season (47) and fifth in three-point shooting percentage (41.6).

 

Syd Earns Her 500th Rebound

With 64 seconds to play in Missoula, Mont., on Feb. 4, Sydney Benson pulled down her 500th career rebound. After tallying 100 her freshman year and 244 the season after that, she has now compiled 204 this year for a total of 548.

Benson has tallied rebounds at a high rate in her career, evidenced by her current placement of eighth in the school record book for career rebounds per game (6.60).

The junior has also shot free throws at an high amount of accuracy throughout her Eagle career. This year, she has made 88-of-107 attempts (82.2 percent), good for a placing of 57th among NCAA Division I players this year and fourth in EWU school history.

In her career, Benson has made 76.6 percent of her charity tosses (180-of-235), which currently places her second in that category in the Eastern Washington record book (first is Lisa Comstock, who was successful on 76.9 percent of her free throw attempts in her career, which lasted from the 1981-82 through the 1984-85 seasons).

On Dec. 15, Benson tied a school mark with seven steals in a 73-57 win over Great Falls on Dec. 15. She now shares that record with five different players (that total was last recorded by Joanna Chadd versus Denver on Jan. 8, 2004). That sum is also tied for a Big Sky Conference season-high total. She also had a double-double in that contest, scoring 11 points and pulling down 10 rebounds.

Benson had an incredible hot streak from Dec. 18-Jan. 5 when she led the Eagles in points per game at 15.6 and shot at a 59.6 percent rate from the floor.

Then, on Saturday (March 1) against Portland State, she made 77.8 percent of her shots (7-of-9), her highest shooting percentage in a game (with at least five attempts) in the junior's career.

The junior is impressively ranked in five different categories in the Big Sky Conference, as she is sixth in rebounds per game (7.6), seventh in blocks per game (0.81), eighth in free-throw shooting (82.2 percent), 11th in shooting percentage (45.6) and 15th in points per game (11.7).

 

Passing the Rock

Sophomore point guard Jessica Huntington has led the Eagles in assists throughout the season and is averaging 5.54 per contest, the third-highest average among Big Sky Conference players and 22nd-best among NCAA Division I players.

That average has been bolstered lately by some incredible performances, as she has averaged 7.44 per game in her last nine contests.

Most recently, Huntington had 11 on Saturday (March 1) versus Portland State. That total is the highest by an Eagle since Michelle Demetruk had that same total against the Vikings on Jan. 25, 2003.

Combined with an outstanding 5-of-5 shooting night (the first perfect performance by an Eagle with at least five shots since Felice Moore nailed all six of her shots against Montana State on March 6, 2004), good for 11 points, she recorded the first double-double of her career.

Previous double-digit assist performances were recorded against Portland State on Jan. 26 and Idaho State on Feb. 16 (10 in each). The ISU contest even saw Huntington have a spectacular 10-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Prior to the sophomore's three double-digit assist totals this year, no Eagle had attained the 10-assist mark in a contest since Demetruk had that outstanding game five years ago.

Huntington's season total of 144 helpers currently places her seventh in Eagle history for a single season.

Her assist-to-turnover ratio (1.89, 144-to-76) is the fourth-best in the league and 35th-best nationally, while her steals per game average of 1.08 places her 14th in the Big Sky on that list.

 

Sensational Scott

Nicole Scott had a simply amazing shooting night from beyond the three-point stripe on Saturday (March 1) against Portland State, as the sophomore nailed 5-of-8 shots taken from three-point territory (she was 8-of-17 overall). Her 21 points in the game is the fourth-highest sum by an Eagle so far this year. She also had 10 rebounds in the contest to record her fourth double-double of the season.

Additionally, Scott has been a dominating force inside, as she has recorded five blocks in each of her last three games. That total is a career-high for Scott and an Eagle season-high.

She had already averaged an impressive 0.96 blocks per game before her current hot streak, but Scott is now firmly in second place in the Big Sky Conference in blocks per game with 1.41 per contest (ahead of Montana's Britney Lohman's 1.04 and trailing Idaho State's Ashley Ingle's amazing average of 3.43 per game).

Against Northern Arizona on Feb. 9, she helped lead the Eagles to a 69-62 win over the Lumberjacks with 19 points.

Scott contributed a number of timely baskets late in the contest to keep the Lumberjacks at bay. With the Eagles up by a perilous six-point margin with nine minutes to play, 49-43, having made just one of their last nine shot attempts, Scott proceeded to nail her next three shots to keep NAU from cutting into the lead. The latter of those three baskets earned the Eagles a 56-47 advantage with 5:34 to play, and Eastern kept the Lumberjacks at least five points the rest of the game.

Against Montana in a road game on Feb. 2, the sophomore nailed 80.0 percent of her three-point attempts (4-of-5).

She is ranked in four different categories in the Big Sky Conference: second in blocks per game (1.41), 12th in rebounds per game (6.2), 15th in three-point shooting (33.3 percent) and 17th in points per game (11.0).

Scott is also nationally ranked, as her 1.41 blocks per game places her 97th among all NCAA Division I players.

 

Serbian Sensation

Freshman Tatjana Sparavalo has had some impressive performances this season.

She showed a glimpse of what was to come at the end of the first half of Eastern Washington's 65-53 win over Idaho on Dec. 5. She contributed an old-fashioned three-point play with 14 seconds left before the break and then had a spectacular pass to Julie Piper for a lay-up at the first-half horn to give EWU a 40-34 halftime edge and the momentum in the contest.

In Eastern's 82-74 loss to Pacific on Dec. 21, the freshman was on fire in the second half, nailing 9-of-11 shots in that stanza. She scored all 23 of her points in that half, which nearly doubled the freshman's previous career high of 12. It was at the time the most points scored by an Eagle so far this year and remains the second-most.

On Feb. 16, she had an incredible first half, making 9-of-11 shots and going into the break with 20 points before finishing with an Eagle season-high 24 tallies.

Sparavalo has scored at least 12 points in 12-of-17 games after tallying just 24 combined points in her first nine games (2.7 per game).

Her hot play has allowed Sparavalo to enter the Big Sky Conference's statistical rankings in points per game, where she currently ranks 21st (9.8), and in free throw shooting (14th at 73.0 percent).

When Big Sky games only are considered, she ties for 10th in points per game (13.4) and is the highest-ranking freshman in that category by seven spots (next is Northern Colorado's Kate Kevorken at 17th with 11.4 points per game).

 

All-Around Baker

Katy Baker has been an outstanding all-around steady player for the Eagles, as she ranked high on the Big Sky Conference's statistical charts in five different categories before a season-ending injury in the game with Idaho State on Jan. 10 ended her season.

She is now ineligible to be listed in the Big Sky rankings, as she has played less than 75 percent of Eastern's games (she will end the season at 55 percent).

On Feb. 4, when she was last eligible to be ranked, Baker placed eighth in assists per game (3.31), ninth in steals per game (1.38), 10th in assist-to-turnover ratio (0.95, 53-to-56), 14th in free-throw shooting (74.1 percent) and 15th in points per game (11.1).

She also had contributed double-digit point totals in 11 different contests this season.

 

Piper Rebounds with the Best

Freshman forward Julie Piper entered the Big Sky Conference's statistical rankings this week, as the Roseburg, Ore., native is the 20th-best rebounder in the league, as evidenced by her 4.6 rebounds per contest.

She has grabbed at least seven caroms in five of her last 10 games and is tied for second on the team in that span with 6.2 per contest.

 

What Shooting Performances

The Eagles had a pair of outstanding shooting performances in their first two games of the season.

Against Montana Tech in the season-opening contest on Nov. 11, the Eagles shot 50.0 percent from beyond the three-point arc (10-of-20) and 91.7 percent from the free throw line (11-of-12).

Eastern Washington then shot 50.0 percent on three-point shots (4-of-8) against Nevada on Nov. 15. That percentage on three-point attempts had been surpassed just two times in the past three seasons.

The Eagles however did just that once again on Jan. 10 versus Idaho State, making 7-of-12 three-pointers (58.3 percent) in that contest.

Then, against Portland State on Saturday (March 1), the Eagles nailed 50.0 percent of their three-point attempts (9-of-18), helped by Nicole Scott's 5-of-8 shooting from beyond the three-point stripe in that contest.

 

Looking Back at Christmas Week

The Eagles started off a two-game road trip to the Golden State by compiling their highest point total in 31 games, but falling short of San Francisco 95-86 on Dec. 18. The 86 points scored were the most by an Eastern team since a 103-102 overtime loss to Gonzaga on Dec. 9, 2006. Eastern Washington did rally late in the USF contest, however, using a 6-0 spurt to pull within five points at 84-79 with 2:25 left in the contest.

In EWU's game with Pacific on Dec. 21, the Eagles shot a sizzling 61 percent in the second half and rallied from a 70-53 deficit with 4:34 left by utilizing a 14-2 run to trail by just 72-67 with 1:52 remaining before falling 82-74.

The 60.6 percent shooting average in the second half (20-of-33) was Eastern's best shooting half since the Eagles made 62.5 percent of its shot attempts (15-of-24) after the break of a 77-50 win over Montana State on Jan. 26, 2006.

Tatjana Sparavalo was on fire in the second half of that Pacific contest, nailing 9-of-11 shots in that stanza. She scored all 23 of her points in that stanza, which nearly doubled the freshman's previous career high for a game of 12. It is also the second-most points scored by an Eagle so far in the 2007-08 season.

 

Getting Hot Around Final Exams

The Eagles returned to the court after completing finals for the fall quarter with a 73-57 win over Great Falls on Dec. 15. That marked Eastern's second victory in three games.

In the UGF contest, two Eagles had school-record performances. Sydney Benson topped off a double-double performance (11 points, 10 rebounds) with a record-tying seven steals. Kyla Evans set a school mark in three-point attempts, as she made 6-of-14 from beyond the arc (7-of-21 from the field) and scored a then-EWU season-high 22 points.

The Eagles were helped by 23 offensive rebounds and 17 second-chance points in the game. Eastern also rallied from a 28-21 rebound deficit at the half to out-rebound UGF 24-12 in the second stanza.

The week before, the Eagles defeated Idaho 65-53 and lost to Portland 85-58.

Against the Vandals, Eastern's defense led the way. The Eagles not only held Idaho scoreless for a 5:39 span in a 17-0 run but actually did not allow a Vandal field goal to tickle the twine for a 14:15 span. By the time that stretch was over, EWU held a commanding 57-40 lead and was able to cruise to its win from there.

Tatjana Sparavalo helped jump start the Eagles at the end of the first half of that contest. She contributed an old-fashioned three-point play with 14 seconds left and then had a spectacular pass to Julie Piper for a lay-up at the first-half horn to give EWU a 40-34 halftime edge.

In the game with Portland, a team which at 7-3 was off to one of its best starts in school history, Eastern was burned by its 28 turnovers. Every other aspect of the game was relatively similar between the teams, as each team shot 44 percent from the floor and UP held just a 40-35 advantage in rebounds.

 

Quartet Signs with Eagles

Four players signed letters of intent on Nov. 14 to attend Eastern Washington University and play for the women's basketball squad, head coach Wendy Schuller announced. The signees will begin their Eastern careers in 2008-09 after inking their names on the first day of the NCAA early signing period.

The new players include Pauline Ferrall, a 6-2 post from Carmel (Calif.) High School, Breauna Russell, a 5-6 guard from Washington H.S. in Phoenix, Ariz., Brianne Ryan, a 6-0 guard from Lynden Christian High School in Lynden, Wash., and Meaghan White, a 6-2 forward from Jesuit High School in Portland, Ore.

"Just looking at the credentials of this class is very exciting," Schuller said. "We have added young ladies who are outstanding individuals, exceptional basketball players and winners. I am very pleased with the recruiting efforts of (associate head coach and recruiting coordinator) Tom Webb and our entire staff and team.

"We have assembled a class that will fit in well with our team and has the ability to help take us to the next level. I love the enthusiasm of this group and know they are great additions to our Eastern Washington women's basketball family."

 

And the Honors Go To ...

Eastern Washington as a team was honored over the summer, being named to the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Academic Top 25 Honor Roll. It marked the sixth consecutive season the Eagles had ranked 10th or higher in the rankings. That span included a No. 1 ranking in 2003-04.

 

54s are Wild

With Nov. 7's exhibition game between Eastern Washington and Central Washington wrapping down, the score was tied 54-54 with 54 seconds left. Then Eastern's #54 player Nicole Scott nailed the first-three point shot she had ever made in an Eagle uniform to give the Eagles a 57-54 lead with 35 seconds left that they would not relinquish.

Scott has shown that the make was no fluke, as she has made 23 in the regular season and even nailed 4-of-5 from beyond the three-point stripe versus Montana on Feb. 2.

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