Eagle title hopes tumble in UND loss
The Eastern Washington women's basketball team lost both their seven-game home winning streak and traction in their late-season bid to catch the University of North Dakota for the Big Sky Conference championship, last Saturday on Senior Day at Reese Court.
The Eagles watched as the league leading visitors from Grand Forks scored the game's final seven points, erasing the Eagles' 57-54 lead with 3 minutes, 22 seconds remaining and score a 61-57 win.
Eastern entered the weekend, and the final homes games of the regular season, trailing North Dakota by two games but the loss eliminated the preseason favorite Eagles (11-7 Big Sky, 15-12 overall) from the title chase, and being hosts for the league tournament.
Now UND (15-4, 20-8) has just Southern Utah (13-5) and Montana with a mathematical shot going into the final weekend of the regular season. Eastern will hit the road for games at Idaho State (9-9, 11-16) tonight (March 6) and Weber State (3-15, 7-20) Saturday at 1 p.m. trying to improve their positioning for the conference tournament that begins March 13 at the home of the regular season champ.
A 67-61 win Thursday over Northern Colorado (8-11, 14-14) kept the flame burning, but only until Saturday afternoon when the Eagles slow start ultimately did them in.
"We spotted them 12 minutes of basketball," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "The last four, we let some things happen and made some mistakes down the stretch that's not good basketball; we put ourselves in that position in the first place by the first 12 (minutes)."
UND came out firing, making nine of its first 14 shots over the opening 11 minutes and took a 22-7 lead by the 8 minute, 45 second mark. Eastern, however, could not buy a bucket in that same span, going 2-of-17 from the field.
The Eagles finally got things clicking by outscoring North Dakota 14-5 and closed to within 27-23 on a Lexie Nelson jumper. A pair of Melissa Williams' free throws with 10 seconds to go in the first half trimmed it to 29-27 UND, which led 31-27 at the break.
A Nelson 3 gave Eastern its first lead with 17:47 to play but North Dakota went on a run over the next three minutes that pushed the margin back to nine at 41-32. A 10-4 Eastern run trimmed it back to 45-42. Marly Anderson came off the bench for the Eagles to six straight points getting her team to within a point, 52-51 at the 7:18 mark.
Both teams would go cold over the next 1:20 before Laura Hughes' layup gave her team back the lead, 53-52 with 6:01 remaining. Hughes gave her team its final lead with 3:05 to play. Emily Evers free throw with 1:08 gave UND a lead it would not lose.
Madi Buck striped the ball from Nelson with 33 seconds to play and scored to make it 60-57 with 31 seconds remaining, the last of a game-high 16 points. Hayley Hodgins launched a heavily defended 3-point try with 2 seconds left that was well short and a foul resulted from the scramble. UND's Mia Lloyd drained the final free throw.
After going 8-for-8 at the line in the first half, Eastern never visited the line in the second. UND was 15-for-24 for the game, a telling stat.
"The free throw differential in the second half is tough to swallow," Schuller said. "But our execution down the stretch was poor. We took such good care of the ball the entire second half, then in the last three minutes we turn it over five times."
Hayley Hodgins led the Eagles with 14 points. Lexie Nelson added 12 points while senior Laura Hughes chipped in 10 points and five rebounds in her final appearance at Reese Court. Fellow senior Aubrey Ashenfelter finished with four rebounds, two assists and two blocks, but no points in her final game in Cheney.
After their dismal start shooting 29.6 percent, the Eagles recovered to shoot 46.6 in the second half and 38 percent for the game. North Dakota was 44.7 from the field.
Ashenfelter, who got the winning basket in a game to open the week at Portland State, led Eastern with 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting, going a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line Thursday to lead her team past Northern Colorado.
Eastern led 33-20 at the half and Jade Redmon's basket gave the Eagles their biggest lead, 35-20 on their first possession of the second half. But the visitors cut the lead to seven with 14 minutes remaining to 50-47 with 3:42 to go. Six Ashenfelter free throws were part of a late run that put Eastern up 62-55 with 43 seconds to play. Four free throws in the game's last 11 seconds provided the final margin.
Nelson added 12 points, knocking down two 3-pointers and making all four of her free throws. Freshmen Redmon and Bethany Montgomery each had 10. Kim Lockridge led the way for Northern Colorado with 16 points.
Eastern clinched a bid to the conference tournament for the fifth consecutive season with its win over Southern Utah Feb. 20. With two games remaining before the Big Sky Tournament, the Eagles would face fifth-seeded Sacramento State in a quarterfinal game Thursday, Mar. 13.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.