December 9, 2008

Back Home for a Pair of Games

Dec. 9, 2008

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After taking a well-deserved break from game action, the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team is back home for a pair of games starting this weekend.

The Eagles had played six times in 12 days from Nov. 25-Dec. 6, but are now off until Saturday (Dec. 13). Eastern will take on Pacific at 2:05 p.m. that day before facing Portland at 7:05 p.m. next Monday (Dec. 15).

Last week, Eastern Washington defeated Montana Tech 73-63 before falling to Gonzaga, the only team on EWU’s schedule this season receiving votes for the AP top-25 poll, by a 71-56 score and coming up just short on the road to Utah State, 71-65 in overtime.

Against Gonzaga, “we cut the lead and gave ourselves an opportunity to get right back in it, but couldn’t get over the hump against a team that I’m guessing will win its league,” head coach Wendy Schuller said. “It was a good game for us to grow.

“I was really proud of the team (against Utah State). We were tired, but we fought and fought and put ourselves in a great position to win the basketball game. It just came down to the fact we didn’t get two defensive stops at the end and then missed a shot at the buzzer that hung on the rim before falling off.”

Pacific is 3-3 with wins over Northern Colorado, Portland State and Fresno State and losses to Oregon, No. 2 North Carolina and Arkansas. The Tigers play at Idaho on Thursday (Dec. 11) before making the short trip north to Cheney.

Historically, the Eagles and Tigers have played just three times, including Eastern Washington’s first-ever trip to the state of California on Dec. 11, 1979, a 61-58 Eagles win. Saturday marks UOP’s first-ever visit to Cheney. EWU holds a 2-1 head-to-head advantage over the Tigers.

Portland is 3-5 with its wins coming over Utah State, Boston University and Sacramento State. The Pilots have lost to Boise State, 21st-ranked Purdue, Providence, Portland State and Seattle University. The Pilots play at Montana on Saturday prior to heading to the EWU campus.

The Eagles and Portland have played much more often than have Eastern and its Saturday opponent, 19 times since the squads’ first meeting on Dec. 5, 1985. Eastern has defeated the Pilots in 3-of-4 contests and has won four straight meetings to take place in Cheney.

“We’re going to take it easy the first couple days of the week and then get our focus back to getting better and improving,” Schuller said.

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

Overall, the Eagles rank second in the Big Sky Conference with 39.0 rebounds per game and have also done a good job not allowing their opponents to achieve their own rebounds and also place second in rebounding advantage (-0.5).

In fact, the team leads the league in offensive rebounds with 15.25 per game.

In eight games so far in 2008-09, the team has grabbed at least 17 offensive boards four times (including in four of the team’s last five games). By comparison, the 2007-08 squad did so on five occasions the entire season.

However, the team has not taken advantage of those second-chance opportunities as much as head coach Wendy Schuller would have hoped.

“We are doing a really nice job on the glass, being aggressive, but we are not making teams pay the way we should, by getting baskets out of them,” Schuller said.

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 break before prevailing by a 66-63 score.

The Eagles then made it twice this season the team has rallied from behind at the half after the team responded to a 34-33 deficit to Montana Tech on Tuesday (Dec. 2) by outscoring the Orediggers 40-29 after the break in a 73-63 win.

Win on the Road? No Problem   
            
Eastern Washington earned an impressive 70-69 overtime victory over UNLV on Nov. 28 in the semifinals of the Lady Rebel Round-Up.

The win 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 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.

“This was a really good win for our team and for our program, a good confidence builder,” head coach Wendy Schuller said. “From this point, we want to keep moving onward and upward.”

In Eastern Washington’s next road game on Saturday (Dec. 6), the team came within a hair of making it two in a row in hostile territory, falling just short of Utah State, 71-65 in overtime.

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

On Nov. 21, an 80-70 win over San Francisco, the Eagles made 55.6 percent of their shots (30-of-54). That average is the best by an Eastern squad since the team made 57.8 percent of its attempts (26-of-45) in an 81-56 win over Portland State on Feb. 12, 2005.

“Our shot selection was really good,” head coach Wendy Schuller said following that contest. “The players took shots that were the best shots for the team and shots they were good at knocking down. That was a really nice step forward for us.”

The Eagles had an amazing shooting half against Georgia on Nov. 29, making 60.0 percent from the floor (12-of-20), a nice 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.

Kyla Nails Shots from Everywhere           
Sophomore guard Kyla Evans has shot lights out so far in 2008-09, as she ranks among the top-50 NCAA Division I players in both three-point shooting percentage (45.7, 37th) and three-point baskets made per game (2.6, 44th). She is fifth and third in the Big Sky Conference in those respective categories.

In fact, Evans is listed in five different Big Sky statistical categories. She is tied for sixth in overall shooting percentage (48.5), 11th in minutes per game (32.25) and 12th in scoring (11.8 points per game).

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 the game, the most 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,” head coach Wendy 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 eight outings this season when she nailed 5-of-8 from beyond the arc versus Utah State on Saturday (Dec. 6), 5-of-9 overall.

Jess Enters Assist List                           
Early into her junior season at Eastern Washington, point guard Jessica Huntington has entered the all-time career assists top-10 list for the Eagles. She currently has 238 and is just two from ninth and 26 behind eighth.

Huntington’s 2008-09 average of 3.75 assists per game places her fifth in the Big Sky Conference. She is also third in assist-to-turnover ratio, 1.67 (30-to-18). That average places her 72nd among NCAA Division I players.

Scott Intimidates Shot Takers    
                  
Junior Nicole Scott ended the 2007-08 season on a hot blocking streak, recording five blocks apiece in three of her final five games of that campaign.

She has now started off 2008-09 where she left off and has 1.13 per game, an average that ranks her second among Big Sky Conference players.

She is also fifth in rebounds per game (7.5) and 29th in points per game (8.9).

Powerful Piper Shoots, Rebounds  
           
Julie Piper has had an impressive season for the Eagles so far in 2008-09, and the stats back it up, as she ranks among the top 13 players in the Big Sky Conference in three statistical categories.

Piper is seventh in rebounding with 7.0 per game, 11th in free throw percentage (76.1) and 13th in scoring (11.6 points per game).

She has scored in double figures in 6-of-8 games this season and has tallied at least eight points in every single contest.

The sophomore has also led the team in rebounding in five of Eastern’s eight games played so far this year.

Amazing Amy Helps Lead Eagles              
Forward Amy Bratvold has been shooting at a high clip this season, both from the free throw line and from the floor.

She has converted 88.9 percent of her charity tosses (16-of-18), the sixth-highest average in the Big Sky Conference and 52nd-best among NCAA Division I players.

Bratvold has also made 43.2 percent of her shots from the floor, the 14th-best average in the league. She is 25th in scoring with 9.6 points per game.

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. That mark broke the school record which was 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.

Eight games into the 2008-09 campaign, the Eagles are hitting at a 70.7 percent clip.

Top-Notch Schedule for Eastern 
              
Eastern Washington are in the midst of preparing for the Big Sky Conference portion of its schedule with 13 non-conference games, played from Nov. 14-Dec. 30.

Several of those games are at home versus some top-notch opponents, headlined by a contest with Gonzaga. Eastern played host to its local rival from 15 miles to the northeast on Thursday (Dec. 4), falling to the Bulldogs in a hard-fought affair, 71-56.

Additionally, Eastern Washington took on Georgia from the Southeastern Conference on Nov. 29, a 75-51 loss, and has three West Coast Conference schools on its schedule, as well as a pair of Western Athletic Conference teams and a Mountain West Conference opponent.

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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