No one likely needs remind Eastern women’s basketball team about the length of a game. That generally it takes a full 40 minutes each night to make sure of success.
But Eastern (9-5 Big Sky, 13-10 overall) seemed content to finish early last Saturday afternoon in a highly disappointing 62-58 Big Sky Conference loss to Northern Arizona at Reese Court.
The setback was not only upsetting because of the loss to the eighth-place Lumberjacks (5-8, 6-16) but it also kept the Eagles from creeping closer to conference-leading Montana (11-3, 17-6).
Eastern has just two games the next two weeks, a trip to Southern Utah this Saturday, Feb. 16, followed by a home game against Portland State, Thursday, Feb. 21.
Despite leading by as many as 12 points earlier in the game, it was the final 4 minutes, 14 seconds that mattered the most. During that span the Eagles went 0-of-6 from the field and committed three turnovers as NAU scored 11 unanswered points and corralled two huge offensive boards to hold on for the road victory, just their third in 13 tries.
If there was a bright spot on the return home to Reese, it was Eastern’s 63-49 win over Sacramento State (8-5, 13-9) Thursday night in which the Eagles held Sac State to 49 points - a season-low for the Hornets.
“Well, we turned the ball over, and they (NAU) scored it. Simple as that,” EWU head coach Wendy Schuller said. “We did an awful job the last four minutes taking care of the basketball."
The first half on Saturday was a back-and-forth affair, but a 7-2 Eagle run at the end of the period allowed the home team to enjoy a five-point edge at intermission, the final margin a 3-pointer from Aubrey Ashenfelter as time ran out.
Eastern carried that momentum into the second half and within the first five minutes had built the lead to 12. But NAU then scored eight unanswered points, and the momentum slowly started to shift.
“We were just slow,” Schuller said. “I was yelling at the team to go faster, run the offense faster, but we just looked lethargic. You can’t play that way against an athletic team that is fighting for their lives.”
NAU tied it at 56-56 with 44 seconds to play on a Tyler Stephens-Jenkins layup and took the lead for good on a pair of free throws from Erikka Banks, the first of their 5-of-6 shooting from the line in the final seconds that decided it.
“I thought they manhandled us at times, and we did not respond,” Schuller said.
Ashenfelter led the Eagles in almost every statistical category with 13 points. Redshirt-freshman Hayley Hodgins also finished with 13 points, while point guard Kylie Huerta added 12.
With the exception of the final five minutes, Eastern shot the ball fairly well, finishing the game at 42.6 percent. However, the Eagles, who came in as the best 3-point shooting team in the league – and one of the top-25 in the nation – made just 5-of-18 attempts from beyond the arc.
In the Sac State win, Eastern had three players reach double figures. Sophomore Lexie Nelson finished with a game-high 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the floor. They got a 12-point, 15-rebound effort from senior Carrie Ojeda while Huerta tallied 13 points.
Eastern was the team to rally in this one. Midway through the first half, the Eagles found themselves in a 21-12 hole, but back-to-back-to-back buckets in the paint sparked an 18-5 run for Eastern to close out the half and lead 30-26.
Sac State tied it at 33-33 with 17:29 to play, but Eastern rolled on a 23-9 run in the next 11 minutes to regain, and add to the lead they would hold to the final horn. Eastern held the Hornets to 32 percent shooting in the second half, forcing eight turnovers along the way.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.