Eastern women earn No. 4 seed following weekend road split
After loss at Idaho State, Eagles face Bengals again
After seeing a halftime tie evaporate Thursday night in Pocatello in an 86-62 loss to Idaho State, the Eastern Washington women's basketball team got it right all night Saturday in Ogden, Utah to earn a 68-60 Big Sky win against Weber State.
The Eastern win at Weber earned the Eagles not only a No. 4 seed in the conference tournament that takes place in Grand Forks, N.D., but also a quick rematch against Idaho State (11-9 Big Sky, 13-16 overall). Eastern beat the Bengals 67-55 on Jan. 4 in Cheney.
"It's a new season for every team that will be there, and we're excited to have the opportunity to see what we can do," EWU head coach Wendy Schuller said. "We know Idaho State will bring energy and effort, and I'm confident that we'll match it."
More so than was the case last Thursday in which the Bengals broke the 31-31 halftime tie with a 10-4 run to take a lead they would never lose. They would add to it with a 13-0 burst between the 9 minute, 50 second mark and 6:12 when ISU bumped an eight point lead to 21 before a Lexie Nelson free throw intervened.
But the Eagles could never recover.
"I was disappointed with our effort, and we didn't come out with the same energy and focus as Idaho State did," Schuller said. "We didn't respond as well as we should have."
Junior Melissa Williams finished with a career-high 23 points and sophomore Hayley Hodgins added 13, the only two Eagles in double figures.
The bright spot was certainly Williams who in nearly 90 career games prior never scored more than 13 points. "I thought Melissa (Williams) was aggressive tonight," Schuller said. "Idaho State is tough and physical, but we knew we could take advantage of her size inside."
While Eastern shot a respectable 41.8 percent for the game, and 52-percent clip in the second half, Idaho State was off the charts, making 19-of-24 shots – 79 percent – in the second half. Sheryl Bitter led the Bengals with 21 points.
Eastern (12-8, 16-13) got 20 points from Nelson Saturday at the Dee Events Center against Weber State (3-17, 7-22) while Hodgins added 13, Aubrey Ashenfelter 11 and Williams a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, her fifth of the season.
The win over Weber State also gave Schuller her 100th career Big Sky victory.
The teams played back and forth through the first four-plus minutes before Williams started an 11-0 Eastern run with her basket. Weber got it down to 23-22 with 4:56 to go in the opening half but the Eagles closed out the opening 20 minutes outscoring WSU 11-6 to take a 34-28 lead at the break.
"I was proud of our team for continuing to battle," Schuller said. "I thought we handled their pressure well, and we kept our composure when they made a run."
Eastern was also very composed at the foul line where they made 20-of-21 shots.
Weber State was held to just 33.3 percent shooting in the second half as Eastern stepped up its defensive effort over the final 20 minutes. Weber's Amanda Hughes led all scorers with 21 points.
As Eastern Washington prepares to face Idaho State in the first round of the Big Sky tournament, Schuller looks at the rubber match and what it will take to advance into the semifinals.
"Idaho State is a solid ball club who is playing very well right now," Schuller said. "I thought at their place we didn't match their level of toughness."
The keys: "We must rebound every possession, offensively we have to play downhill and in attack mode, and defensively we cannot let them dictate what they want to do," Schuller said.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.