Eagle Schedule Has Familiar Feel

Aug. 15, 2006

Eastern Washington University's 2006-07 men's basketball schedule has a familiar ring to it.

The Eagles take on the likes of Gonzaga, Washington, Oregon and UNLV as part of yet another difficult road schedule. Gonzaga and Washington, as well as Big Sky rival Montana, advanced to the NCAA Tournament where all three teams picked up first-round victories.

"We have always scheduled tough, and this year is no different," Burns said. "Those are not easy places to win basketball games. But we have a group that can go in there and physically compete against those teams. We're excited about that."

Eastern plays an unprecedented eight games in November as the NCAA moved-up the allowed season starting date by a week. After an exhibition game against Northwest Nazarene, Eastern plays at Gonzaga on Nov. 10 and UNLV on Nov. 14. From Nov. 18 to Nov. 29 the Eagles play five games, including four home games and a visit to Washington on Nov. 24.

"The schedule allows us to start a week earlier and we kind of shoe-horned some games in around Thanksgiving as well," Burns said. "We'll have a tough stretch there to deal with. From Nov. 18 to 29 we play five games, but at least four of those five games are at home."

Four-straight road games follow in December, with Eastern hosting Idaho on Dec. 21 prior to Christmas. However, because of the addition of Northern Colorado to the Big Sky, league play will begin before the new year begins. Eastern hosts Montana State on Dec. 28 and Montana on Dec. 30.

"We tried to make sure we had some time to rest as we get ready for conference play," Burns said of his December schedule. "It's tough starting off the conference race right after Christmas. The fortunate part is we start at home. I think our schedule allows us a chance to get better against some pretty good teams and ultimately get ourselves ready for conference play."

The Big Sky Conference Tournament is scheduled for March 3, 6 and 7 as Eastern tries to extend its string of consecutive appearances to 10. The Eagles are just the fifth team in the 31-year history of the tournament to qualify for at least nine-straight tournaments. The EWU streak started back in 1998 after making just one trip to the tourney in its first 10 seasons as a member of the conference.

 

2006-07 Eagles at a Glance . . .

A total of seven returning letter winners and some talented newcomers lead this year's Eagle team. Included is National Freshman of the Year Rodney Stuckey and three other returning starters.

Playing for a team with just one senior, the 6-foot-5 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent., Wash., burst onto the scene with one of the best seasons by a freshman in NCAA Division I history. Among his many awards was being honored as Collegeinsider.com Freshman of the Year after a record-breaking season unmatched in the history of Eastern Washington and by any freshman in the 43-year history of the Big Sky Conference.

He set seven school records, including a 24.2 scoring average per game that is a Big Sky record for a freshman and the seventh-best overall in the history of the league. His average ranked eighth in NCAA Division I. His 726 total points is fifth-best in league history, the most in the conference in nearly 30 years (since 1978-79) and the most-ever by a freshman in the BSC.

But most importantly, Eastern won seven more games than the 2004-05 EWU squad.

Thanks to Stuckey and his teammates, the Eagles finished 15-15 after a third-place finish in the Big Sky Conference with a 9-5 mark. That was an improvement of three positions and four wins from a year ago when the Eagles were 8-20 overall and 5-9 in the Big Sky.

After opening the Big Sky Conference Tournament with an 81-75 victory over Portland State, Eastern fell 73-71 in overtime to eventual Big Sky Champion and NCAA Tournament representative Montana in the semifinals. The Grizzlies survived in overtime against EWU after Stuckey missed a short jumper that could have won it for the Eagles.

It was Eastern's sixth trip to the semis in the last seven years, but the Eagles came up short in their bid for a fifth trip to the title game in six seasons. The Eagles won the Big Sky regular season and tourney titles and advanced to its first-ever NCAA Tournament in the 2003-04 season.

Eastern won seven of its last nine games versus Big Sky foes, with the lone losses coming to UM. Montana went on to pound tournament host Northern Arizona 73-60 for the title, then upset fifth-seeded Nevada 87-79 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

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