Dec. 30, 2008
The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team has been looking forward to the commencement of Big Sky Conference play for a while now, and the wait is almost over. The Eagles will play host to Northern Arizona and Sacramento State on Friday (Jan. 2) and Sunday (Jan. 4), respectively, to start EWU's league schedule.
"We've done a lot of growing up the last couple months," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "I've seen some sparks of really good things to come, particularly defensively, and I like the way the team has come together.
"We do need to continue to get better at getting the ball inside to our post players and to have consistency. We've been up and down, and consistency is what is needed to be successful in Big Sky against the really good teams in our league."
First, however, Eastern Washington needs to wrap up the non-conference portion of its slate, which it will do in a home contest versus Eastern Oregon at 7:05 p.m. on Tuesday (Dec. 30). This weekend's games will begin at 7:05 p.m. and 2:05 p.m., respectively.
The Eagles have improved over 2007-08, as the team brings a 4-8 record into this week's action. (last year, Eastern Washington went 3-10 in non-conference play) However, the team is looking to improve even more dramatically during the Big Sky portion of the 2008-09 schedule.
Eastern Oregon is 6-3 this season. Tuesday's game, however, will not count among the NAIA Division II team's results for 2008-09 (it does count for Eastern). Versus NCAA Division I opponents, the Mountaineers fell to Portland, 82-50, in an exhibition game on Nov. 8 and to Gonzaga on Nov. 14 in a game that counted for the Bulldogs, 101-44.
Historically, the Eagles have not faced Eastern Oregon since Feb. 4, 1978. Eastern currently holds a 4-1 head-to-head advantage over the Mountaineers, falling in the teams' initial meeting on March 2, 1976, before winning the next four match-ups.
Northern Arizona finished up the non-conference portion of its schedule with a 3-10 mark (wins coming over Santa Clara, Hawaii and Missouri-Kansas City). The Lumberjacks fell at home to Denver, 76-60, on Sunday (Dec. 28) in their last outing.
The Eagles lead the all-time series with NAU by a 24-21 count. Eastern snapped a three-game losing streak to the Lumberjacks with a 69-62 home win in the last meeting between the teams on Feb. 9, 2008.
Sacramento State is 2-10 (wins were against Santa Clara and UC Davis), and the Hornets will take on UTEP on Tuesday and Portland State on Friday prior to traveling to Cheney for Sunday's contest.
Eastern Washington has won 18-of-28 games versus the Hornets. Sacramento State won both meetings last year after the Eagles had claimed the three previous meetings.
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 third in the Big Sky Conference with 38.7 rebounds per game and have also done a good job not allowing their opponents to achieve their own rebounds to also place second in rebounding advantage (+0.2).
In fact, the team leads the league in offensive rebounds with 14.58 per game.
In 12 games so far in 2008-09, the team has grabbed at least 10 offensive boards nine times (including in six of the team's last seven games).
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 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.
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.
Eastern Washington then made 54.5 percent (24-of-44) in a 63-58 win over Pacific on Dec. 13. To compare, the Eagles had not reached the 50.0 percent mark at all last year.
"Our shot selection was really good (in both 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. 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.
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 has been an intimidating force inside this year, as her blocks per game average of 0.83 ranks her fifth in the Big Sky. She is also seventh in rebounds per game (6.7), ninth in shooting percentage (42.3) and 28th in points per game (8.8).
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 (32nd as of Dec. 21, currently 41.3) and three-point baskets made per game (50th, 2.58). She is currently fifth and second in the Big Sky Conference in those respective categories.
"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 five different Big Sky statistical categories. She is sixth in overall shooting percentage (45.8), 10th in minutes per game (32.75) and tied for 12th in scoring (11.7 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," 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 versus Utah State on Dec. 6, 5-of-9 overall.
She already has 83 three-point makes in her career, the sixth-highest total in school history (and just 10 behind fifth), especially impressive considering Evans is just a sophomore and missed 11 games last year due to an injury.
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 in three Big Sky Conference statistical categories.
Piper is seventh in free throw percentage (78.8), ninth in rebounding (6.4), and 19th in scoring (10.1 points per game).
She has tallied at least eight points in 10-of-12 contests.
The sophomore has also led the team in rebounding in seven games, including in Eastern's last two outings.
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 252 and is in ninth, just and just 12 behind eighth.
Huntington's 2008-09 average of 3.83 assists per game places her seventh in the Big Sky Conference. She is also sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio, 1.48 (46-to-31).
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 69.3 percent clip (140-of-202).
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."