Eastern's strong finish fades in overtime loss to UNC
Eagles’ 11-2 run gets ‘em to overtime but turnovers bite against Bears
First they delivered just the right recipe for a rally.
But then maybe the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team might have put just a bit too much of some of that ingredient into their overtime effort.
The result was a 70-64 loss in the semifinals of last Friday’s Big Sky Conference basketball tournament to No. 2 seed Northern Colorado at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula.
While No. 3 Eastern fell short of the goal for a Big Sky championship – later won by Montana 56-43 over Northern Colorado – and the NCAA tournament berth, the Eagles earned a bid in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. Eastern will face the University of Washington this Friday, March 22 in Seattle.
Ironically the WNIT bracket sets up a potential fourth meeting between the Bears and Eagles in the semifinals should each advance.
Behind the effort of senior center Carrie Ojeda, Eastern, 19-12, rallied in the final 3 minutes, 21 seconds to tie a game they trailed by as many as 13 points with just over 8 minutes to play. The Eagles were still down double-digits, 53-43 with 4:58 remaining. Ojeda’s jump shot made it 53-54 at the 4:40 mark.
With 3:21 remaining in the game, junior guard Chenise Pakootas nailed a 3-pointer to give her team their final lift on the stretch run. That shot trimmed the Bears’ lead to 55-49. With four more Ojeda points in the next 19 seconds it was a 4-point game with 1:46 remaining.
Pakootas’ steal with 50 seconds to play set up Lexie Nelson’s jumper and a D’shara Strange turnover with 31 seconds to play gave Eastern one final shot. That was Ojeda’s short jumper in the paint that tied the contest at 57-57 with 16 seconds to play.
“It was something where as a coach you are just so proud of your team for fighting so hard, for just refusing to go down without a huge fight,” EWU head coach Wendy Schuller said.
Before the 11-2 run to close out regulation play, Eastern made just 6 of 21 shots in the second half and only 8 of 30 in the first.
“I just thought Carrie was just phenomenal in terms of she was getting every ball and flying around and making every play,” Schuller said. “She took a huge charge for us right down the stretch.”
After going 1 of 7 in the first half, Ojeda made 5 of 8 from the field and 8 of 10 at the line in the final 25 minutes to finish with 20 points. She also had a game-high 14 rebounds and her eighth double-double of the year. Nelson and Melissa Williams each wound up with 10 points and were the only other Eastern players in double figures.
The Bears outscored Eastern 24-13 off turnovers.
Schuller saw the momentum just shift in their direction.
“(It was) just unbelievable effort that the entire group out there was putting out to try and get us back in it,” Schuller said.
“The way we put it we were just trying to make them uncomfortable offensively,” Schuller said. “As the half went on we just kind of got better and better and better.”
But things changed in overtime.
The Bears established control early in the 5-minute overtime period, hitting their first two shots to take a 60-57 edge. Eastern turned the ball over four times and made just 1-of-4 field goals in overtime. Northern Colorado got it done at the free-throw line, converting 11-of-15 shots, outscoring the Eagles 13-7 for the win.
“I just thought we were trying to make things happen that just weren’t there, instead of the thing we preach constantly and that’s take what the defense gives you,” Schuller said.
Eastern advanced to second-round play with a 68-53 win over Montana State (17-13) last Wednesday in the opening game of the tournament.
It was not a pretty start in Missoula as the Eagles and Bobcats combined for 21 turnovers and made just 21-of-59 shots between them in the first period.
The second half was an entirely different story. Eastern had just four turnovers the second 20 minutes and shot 57 percent from the field, 4 of 9 from 3-point range.
Nelson led the team with 18 points, while Kylie Huerta and junior guard Aubrey Ashenfelter both finished with 12.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.