The Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team got to open a couple of presents early with two Big Sky Conference wins.
One was bigger than the other, the Eagles’ 61-55 win Saturday at defending conference champion Idaho State, while the other, an 88-60 thumping of Weber State Thursday in Ogden, Utah left them 2-0 in league play and 5-5 overall.
With sophomore point guard Kylie Huerta tossing in a career-high 15 points at Reed Gym in Pocatello, the Eagles won for the first time at ISU since 2003 and took their first win in the series against the Bengals since Jan. 22, 2010.
Eastern’s win Thursday marked the ninth straight victory over Weber.
“It’s pretty huge anytime you can win on the road in this league,” Eastern head coach Wendy Schuller said. “And it feels great to get a win here [Pocatello], because we haven’t in a long time.”
After Idaho State took an early 9-5 lead, the Eagles went on a 17-4 run over the next 10 minutes. Junior Aubrey Ashenfelter got it started with a 3-pointer at the 16:19-mark, and then five different Eagles hit at least one shot during the surge.
ISU would close it to within four but Huerta’s two, 3-point shots gave Eastern a 36-25 halftime lead on 58 percent shooting. “Kylie gave us a great boost offensively in the first half,” Schuller said.
Eastern cooled considerably in the second half, shooting just 29.6 percent but were able to hold off a challenge after pushing the lead to 15 on three occasions in the second half, the final time 47-32 on a Lexi Nelson jumper with 11:33 to play.
The Bengals managed to pull within six points thanks to some solid free-throw shooting, but that was the closest they came.
Along with Huerta, Nelson eclipsed double-digits, finishing with 13 points, four rebounds and two assists. Ojeda had 11.
“I was concerned in the second half because we weren’t great offensively,” Schuller said. “We had a ton of good looks, but just weren’t knocking them down.” The key was getting defensive stops.
Idaho State was held to 28.6 percent shooting in the game - the worst offensive output by any EWU opponent this season. The Bengals (1-1, 6-4) made just one of their 18 attempts from beyond the arc, and hit just six total field goals in the second half.
Eastern shot a season-high 55.2 percent from the field, 53.3 percent from 3-point land and 94.1 percent from the charity stripe Thursday against the Wildcats.
Four different players scored in double figures, including juniors Aubrey Ashenfelter and Laura Hughes, who led the team with 18 points each. Ashenfelter hit a career-high four 3-pointers and made 6-of-6 shots from the free throw line. Hughes made a career-high eight of her 12 attempts in the paint.
“We really had the inside-out game going today,” Schuller said. “That’s what impressed me the most.”
Eastern led early, 4-0, and then broke open a close game with a 13-4 run that gave them a 41-28 halftime lead. Eastern led by as many as 32 in the second half. In addition to the 18 points from Ashenfelter and Hughes, Nelson had 14 and Ojeda added 13.
In the second half at Weber, Eastern made 20-of-36 attempts (55.5 percent) from the field with just one turnover. The Eagles also forced 11 Wildcat miscues. Eastern led by as many as 32 in the second half.
Eastern’s offense has really come alive in contests against Weber and Boise State, averaging over 80 points a game.
Following a brief Christmas break, the Eagles will return to Reese Court to host Warner Pacific this Saturday, Dec. 29 in another non-conference game before facing Montana and Montana State the following week in Cheney.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.