EWU loses in final seconds against Northern Colorado, get back on track for win at North Dakota
The resiliency of the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team got a stern test last week - and they responded.
Following a depressing last-second 67-66 loss Thursday night to Northern Colorado in Greeley, the Eagles recovered for a 67-58 win in Grand Forks against North Dakota on a quick turnaround.
The win Saturday helped Eastern improve to 12-6 in Big Sky Conference play, 16-11 overall, tied for third with Idaho State (12-6, 17-10) which visits tonight (March 7) for a 6:05 p.m. game at Reese Court. The Eagles close out the regular season Saturday for Senior Day against Weber State (0-18, 0-27) at 2:05 p.m.
“I was really proud of our team today,” Eastern head coach Wendy Schuller said. “We had a long travel day [Friday], after finishing late on Thursday with a loss that obviously weighed heavy on us.”
But Eastern took control late in the first half at UND, leading by as many as 14 at 37-23 and bumped that to 16 early in the second. The Eagles never trailed after the 15:56 mark of the first half and led 37-27 at the break at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.
The Eagles withstood a North Dakota rally that trimmed the margin to five, 59-54 with 3:42 to play. That’s when senior Carrie Ojeda went back to work and scored five of her game-high 21 points down the stretch.
“Carrie really asserted herself offensively from an early point today,” Schuller said. “She was willing to step up and take shots, and she hit some big jumpers and scored a few times with her back to the basket.
Sophomore Lexie Nelson joined Ojeda in double figures with 14 points.
“I thought a lot of things were against us and we didn’t let it affect us,” Schuller said. “We could have just laid down after that tough one Thursday night.” It was a testament to the mental fortitude the team has.
The Eagles capitalized on 20 UND turnovers, scoring 23 points.
North Dakota fell to 11-16 overall and 6-13, seeing postseason hopes dim in their first Big Sky season. Megan Lauck led UND with 14.
While Schuller said her team responded well after the loss to UNC, the coach certainly didn’t. “Well, I didn’t sleep Thursday night, not a wink, not a wink,” she said.
That’s because visions of a disastrous final 1 minute, 7 seconds bounced around her head.
The Eagles had a 66-61 lead when Stephanie Lee converted a field goal in the paint to make it 66-63. D’Shara Strange converted off a turnover for a bucket with 31 seconds to play and it was a 66-65 Eastern lead. Strange finished with 21 to lead all scorers.
On the inbounds play, the Eagles got the ball to their best free throw shooter, Nelson, but she was pressured by a trio of UNC players and a jump ball was called.
The Bear’s Victoria Timm missed her field goal attempt, but collected the offensive rebound. With just two seconds left, Strange found some open space and hit a short jumper off the backboard. Eastern’s final 3-point shot was unsuccessful.
Schuller admitted her team made mistakes as time wound down, but added, “I thought there were some really tough calls against us down the stretch,” she said. “That’s basketball.”
“We did well in so many different areas, except for rebounding,” Schuller said. “Offensive boards crushed us again.”
Junior Aubrey Ashenfelter, whose old-fashioned three-point play gave her team the 66-61 lead in the final 67 seconds, led her team in scoring with 15 points. Sophomore point guard Kylie Huerta contributed 14. Laura Hughes added 13 and Ojeda 10 to close out Eastern double-figure scoring.
Idaho State comes into their game with three straight wins. “They’re playing really well,” Schuller said of the defending league champs.
It’s going to be a battle, Schuller said, adding, “To be honest I don’t know if it matters whether you’re a three or four seed but I think the higher we can finish the better for us.”
“If anything you just want to go into the tournament on a good note,” she said. “You want to go in playing well. We feel good going into next week no matter what happens this week.”
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.