January 31, 2013 | Vol. 116 -- No. 41

EWU women put win streak on line during Montana trip

In a season of streaks, the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team hopes to continue the good kind in their Big Sky Conference trip to Montana this weekend.

“It’s a big week for us,” Eagles’ head coach Wendy Schuller said as she leads her team into games at Montana State (8-2 Big Sky, 14-5 overall) tonight (Jan. 31) and Saturday in Missoula versus the Griz, also 8-2 and 14-5.

Eastern (7-3, 11-8) takes a four-game winning streak into the weekend following a 79-70 win last Saturday over Southern Utah at Reese Court.

The Eagles got a sweep on this trip a year ago and it was a true rarity. Their 66-52 win in Bozeman, preceded by a 67-57 victory at Dahlberg Arena over Montana meant Eastern earned a road sweep for the first time since becoming a member of NCAA Division I athletics in 1983-84.

That was then and means little to this team now. “Last year is last year, both teams are different,” Schuller said. “We are way past that by now.”

But, she added, there are players on the team who have won in both places. “So I think there’s not that level of doubt, ‘oh my gosh, we can’t win here, we’ve never won here,’” Schuller said. “I don’t think any of that will exist for us.”

It’s definitely going to be a hard week and her team will have to be prepared, both mentally and physically.

“We’re going to have to play smart; we’re going to have to have another level of toughness,” Schuller said.

Both schools have great fan following, Schuller said, so the challenge goes beyond what the Eagles will find on the court. “For us, in the end, it comes down to us just taking care of doing the things that we are trying to do as best as we can.”

That win streak remained in place last Saturday thanks in part to sophomore Lexi Nelson’s perfection at the free throw line.

Nelson converted all 12 of her attempts from the stripe and bettered a 21-year-old school record held by Lisa Graber, who made 11-of-11 against Northern Arizona Feb. 22, 1992. Nelson finished with a team and game-high 21 points, including going 3 of 4 from 3-point range and 3 for 10 on field goals.

“She is a player that puts in the time,” Schuller said. “When you shoot as many free throws as she does every day of her life, you deserve to go 12-for-12.”

After falling behind early, the Eagles closed out the first half on a 21-9 run and led 41-35 lead at halftime. Eastern is 10-2 this year when leading or tied at the half.

While the Eagles never relinquished the lead, Southern Utah (4-5, 10-9) closed to within three at 62-59, but Nelson’s 3-pointer sparked a 12-4 run for Eastern. Kylie Huerta had 12 points for the Eagles, plus a career-high nine assists.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

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