Sometimes lighting that fire under her players is, as Eastern Washington University head women's basketball coach Wendy Schuller suggests, like rubbing a pair of damp sticks together.
But that certainly was not the case in last Saturday's Big Sky Conference game with visiting Idaho State. No spark or accelerant was necessary; just a few perfectly scripted words helped fuel the Eagles' 67-55 victory.
"It was kind of like 'hey, what the heck's going on here?'" Schuller said. "As a coach you're obviously pleased when your team responds in the right way."
And did they.
After the Bengals slowly got themselves back in the game after trailing 11-0 in the opening 3 minutes, 7 seconds, trailing just 49-46 with 8:33 to play, Schuller begrudging called a timeout. What followed were nine straight points and a 16-4 run to close things out for a Reese Court sweep.
EWU's 78-67 win Thursday over Weber State improved their conference record to 2-1 and 6-6 overall.
"I guess I have a little Phil Jackson in me," Schuller said, referencing the former NBA championship coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers and his penchant to let players work through troubled times. "His philosophy is that there are times teams have to learn how to play through things, figure things out on the floor."
Saturday was a situation where they had to step back and take a breath, Schuller explained.
As much as it was an offensive explosion in the final minutes that preserved the victory, it was defense that paved the way to Eastern's sixth win in their last seven games.
The Eagles held Idaho State (3-8, 1-1 BSC) to 36.5 percent shooting, the third time Eastern has had such stingy numbers. EWU is 3-0 in games where they've kept opponents under 40 percent.
"I thought that was the best defense we've played all year," Schuller said. "I thought we were focused and communicated really well."
This, she said, after maybe not having played that well recently on the defensive end. "That's something I have not been happy at all with our effort, and our resolve," Schuller said.
However, "I thought our team did an outstanding job disrupting their offense and fighting through screens." The Bengals turned the ball over 10 times in the first half leading to 12 Eagle points and helped Eastern earn a 35-25 lead.
But ISU hung around in the second half to cut the EWU lead to 41-35 with 13:55 to play and down to three with 8:33 remaining where Schuller called that key timeout. Baskets by seniors Laura Hughes, Aubrey Ashenfelter, plus a layup and 3-pointer from junior Lexie Nelson started the run that sealed things.
Sophomore Hayley Hodgins led all scorers with 19 points while Nelson added 18 and were the only Eagles in double-figures. Lindsey Reed led ISU with 13 points.
Eastern shot 47 percent for the game, 50 percent in the second half. The Eagles finished 7-of-15 from 3-point range while the Bengals shot just 25 percent (4-of-16) from long-range.
Like they did Saturday, the Eagles used a late run to top Weber. With the Wildcats (0-2, 4-7) leading 60-59 with 5:12 to play, back-to-back 3s from Hodgins were part of an 8-1 burst that put Eastern into the lead for good. Seven straight points from Hughes, part of her 17 point night, gave the Eagles a 74-64 lead with 1:31 remaining. Hodgins led Eastern with 22 and Nelson 21.
"I thought we came together defensively down the stretch," Schuller said. "We were able to get stops, and that got our offense going."
The Eagles hit the road for a game at Montana (1-1, 7-4) tonight (Thursday, Jan. 9) at 6 p.m. and Montana State (1-1, 6-5), Saturday at 1 p.m.
Eastern has been at home for over a month and a return to the road in the throes of Arctic cold east of the Continental Divide, plus a trip to the always tough Montana schools, did not excite Schuller.
"Looking nationally at the weather I'm not all that excited to be on a bus in the middle of Montana," Schuller said. She was happy, however, that their first road trip of 2014 was not to North Dakota.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.