A turnaround keyed by some solid defensive play in the final 10 minutes earned the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team both some redemption and a 78-70 Big Sky Conference victory over Southern Utah last Saturday night in Cedar City.
“The last 10, maybe 15 minutes just defensively we were able to get some stops,” Eastern Washington University women’s head basketball coach Wendy Schuller said.
The win kept Eastern (10-5 Big Sky, 14-10 overall) in third place in the conference with Portland State (5-10, 11-13) paying a visit to Reese Court tonight for a 6:05 p.m. tipoff. The first 500 fans to arrive receive a free “Red-Out Reese” T-Shirt courtesy of Northern Quest Resort and Casino.
Eastern had the lead for all but the final 26 seconds of the first half as SUU went on a 14-4 run to close out the first half and lead 35-34. The T-Birds didn’t lose any momentum during the break as they scored 17 of the first 26 points of the second period to lead 52-43 with 15:17 to play.
A 7-0 run, capped by a Laura Hughes’ free throw brought Eastern to within 52-50 with 12:29 remaining. Eastern would take the lead back on a layup from Chenise Pakootas at the 9:42 mark and never trail.
After being badly rebounded in the first half 31-14, Eastern and Southern Utah were even in the second with 21 boards each. “We rebounded it better and that got our running game going,” Schuller said. The Eagles outscored Southern Utah in the second half, 44-35, while holding the T-Birds (6-9, 12-13) to 32.3 percent shooting.
“I think when we can run and hit the open floor it opens up a lot of opportunities for us; not just for our guards but for our big kids who run the open floor very well,” Schuller said.
Sophomore Lexie Nelson had a game-high 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the floor, a total that included two 3-pointers and going 6-of-8 at the free throw line.
Hughes came off the bench recording a career-high-tying 20 points and eight rebounds. Aubrey Ashenfelter reached double digits for the second-straight game with 11 points. Point guard Kylie Huerta was quiet on the offensive end, but did come up with a career-high seven steals.
“Carey (Ojeda) got into some foul trouble and Laura (Hughes) was able to make an impact for us,” Schuller said. “Lexi (Nelson) obviously had a nice game as well. I liked the fact that she was aggressive and was able to get to the free throw line.”
With just five games remaining all are important, but last Saturday’s win seemed especially so following Eastern’s disappointing 62-58 setback the week before at home to Northern Arizona.
“It was very critical, we were extremely disappointed in ourselves after the NAU game and felt like we’ve gotta’ get this one on the road done, just to somewhat get that back for ourselves,” Schuller said.
Schuller said she was also pleased with how the team responded in the previous week’s worth of practice and how it translated to the game. “I thought we had a great week, one of our best weeks of practice, we really competed,” Schuller said. “And I think it carried over into Saturday’s game.”
For the game, Eastern led SUU in second-chance points, 18-14. The Eagles also outscored its opponent 36-20 in the paint, and had 22 points off turnovers.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.