The sweet taste of a huge victory vanished rather quickly.
Eastern Washington’s rare and exciting 58-56 women’s basketball win over Montana last Thursday at Reese Court - and the leg up it gave the Eagles in Big Sky Conference play - was equalized by a dose of reality Saturday afternoon in an equally as disappointing 73-60 loss to Montana State.
The loss ended Eastern’s five-game winning streak and a perfect 3-0 start to the BSC season. The Eagles are now 7-6 overall and 3-1 in the Big Sky with a road trip that begins tonight (Jan. 10) at Northern Arizona (1-2 Big Sky, 2-10) and finishes Saturday afternoon at Sacramento State (1-2, 6-6).
“I was not pleased with our performance in terms of movement, energy and all the things we need to be,”EWU head coach Wendy Schuller said. “It’s disappointing to do that on your home floor.”
Not only did the loss to the Bobcats (3-1, 9-4) make things a 3-way tie for second early in conference standings, but the loss denied Schuller a chance at her milestone 150th win at Eastern.
The turning point Saturday came near the midpoint of the second half where a 15-4 MSU run turned a 5-point Eastern lead into a 6-point deficit. Montana State made 61 percent of its shots in the second half (17-of-28), to just 26 percent for the Eagles (7-of-27).
And if that was a bad stretch, the finish was even more brutal as the Cats, behind the game’s leading scorer Rachel Semansky, steamrolled the Eagles in the final 4:02 with a 13-2 run. Semansky had 20 points
Carrie Ojeda had a double-double to lead the Eagles with 13 points and 10 rebounds, with 11 of those points and six boards coming in the second half.
“Carrie battled, and played really hard for us,” Schuller said. “It would be nice if we could get her more touches in the paint.”
Laura Hughes had nine first-half points and finished with 11. Lexie Nelson finished with 10 points.
In Thursday’s game versus the Griz, with their loud little following cheering madly, Hughes was the hero.
Teetering on the edge late in the game of going to the bench with her final foul, the sophomore post played heady defense, and collected the decisive free throws in only the Eagles’ 15th win in the 81 games played in the series.
Eastern was in pretty solid control of the game with a 53-46 lead with just under four minutes to play. But an 8-1 Griz’ run tied it at 56-56 with just 14 seconds to play.
The Eagles designed a play to get former Griz and the game’s leading scorer (14 points) Lexie Nelson the ball to hopefully end the game in regulation.
“We wanted to try and get Lexie going to the hoop off a hand-off ball screen,” Schuller explained. “But Montana defended it well, and at that point, we just tried to make a play.”
Nelson drove hard to the lane, put up a shot that was off the mark, but Hughes came up with the offensive rebound. She went back up and was fouled, sending her to the line with 1.8 seconds left. She completed a perfect night at the line sinking her fifth and sixth free throws for the win.
But Hughes had one more bit of work to do when she intercepted a long Montana inbounds pass to end the game.
“Laura plays hard for us, and that situation comes with a lot of pressure,” Schuller said.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com