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WSU, EWU women start league play

Eastern Washington and Washington State women's basketball teams open conference play with the New Year and our basketball notebook takes a look at that from their angle after a short feature on Eagle senior Jessica Huntington.

The unedited notebook is posted below but first a couple of questions:

Where do you think the optimistic Cougars will finish in the Pac-10?

Will Eastern Washington make the (top 6) Big Sky Conference tournament?

With the schedule Gonzaga played (three top 15's, four ranked teams) and tried to play (expecting more from some traditional powers), did the Bulldogs get enough out of their schedule? If Wednesday's Santa Barbara goes as expected, is that a good game or bad game before a 9-day break before opening league play?

Here's the top 25, which includes 23 of the teams I voted on with all 25 in the top 29. Read on.

By Dave Trimmer

davet@spokesman.com; (509) 927-2154

The first thought that comes to mind when watching Eastern Washington point guard Jessica Huntington is “steady Eddy.”

The numbers seem to concur.

The senior from East Valley Yakima was thrown into the fray as a freshman. The Eagles’ only point guard as a sophomore, Huntington quietly amassed 150 assists, seventh on the school single-season list, with an average of 5.36, which was 25th nationally and her 1.76 assists-to-turnover ratio was 46th nationally. Las year she was 23rd nationally with a 1.85 ratio.

“That’s a great way to put it,” EWU coach Wendy Schuller said. “Over the course of her career that’s the way she’s been, very steady. Night in and night out she works work hard, she always does the things we ask. She works as hard as any player I’ve had in offseason. She’s just a great kid to coach because of the great effort she puts forth.”

The Eagles have given Huntington just as much in return.

 “I had a lot of learning to do, lot of growing up to do,” she said. “As sophomore, as the only point guard, I had to learn to communicate with teammates better, how to control my temper. I know it’s better for my teammates, especially as a point guard, if I remain cool … everyone looks to me.”

The one thing Eastern hasn’t done is win, missing the Big Sky Conference tournament every year after a six-year run. That could change this year, in no small part because of Huntington, who was on four state trophy teams in high school, including a championship as a freshman.

“The great thing with her is she’s taken a step forward as a player,” Schuller said, pointing particularly to an improved shot. “Coming into this year we told her she’s shooting the 3 well, now she has to shoot it more often. She’s hunting her shots … she’s stepped out of her comfort zone and is getting (inside).

“She’s become a complete player. She’s always defended hard, she’s always handled it. She makes us a better team.”

Another reason for optimism, Huntington said, is continuity.

“Everyone stuck around, no one left, no one gave up on us,” she said. “Every year we’re building something good and someone left. Our maturity is going to get us where we want to go.”

Huntington and Nicole Scott are the only two seniors, the only two survivors out of a big recruiting class. She could only speculate why, though the thought of giving up never entered her mind.

“The fact they didn’t want to put in the hard work to get where we wanted to go,” she guessed. “I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that’s the main reason.

“I’m not a quitter, I never have been. If I get in a situation that’s not as good as I want it to be, I want to be one of those people that get us out of it.”

Big Sky

League play starts this week, with the Eagles (6-6) playing at Sacramento State (3-8) on New Year’s Eve, and with league power Montana (4-7) rebuilding the race seems wide open.

“I thought coming into the year that would be the case,” Schuller said. “Portland State (6-6) was picked to win the league. I thought that was an appropriate pick with the kids coming back and results had last year.

“Going from there, Montana State (7-6) is playing well. Montana is really young, they’ll start playing better and better. But it is an open race and we have an opportunity to put ourselves in the running.”

The Eagles are optimistic.

“I think we have our best basketball in front of us,” Schuller said. “We haven’t been as good offensively as I’d like to be but defensively have come together and have a chance to be a great defensive team.

“We’ve got kids that have the ability to score. Right now we haven’t got as much out of them, whether it’s me and what we’re calling or them not stepping up and hitting shots.”

Local players to watch: Lyndie Seidensticker (LC-MSU), Jenna Galloway (Ferris-NAU), Kelli Valentine (Mead-PSU), Lexi Bishop (Shadle Park-PSU), Katie Baker (Lake City-UM), Tonya Schnibbe (U-Hi-Weber State).

Pac-10

Washington State (5-6) is at Oregon State (7-2) on New Year’s Day and Oregon (9-3) on Sunday to open Pac-10 play.

The Beavers and Ducks, both picked to finish behind the Cougs, have put together good records put haven’t play a particularly tough schedule.

Overall, after second-ranked Stanford (9-1), the league hasn’t done a lot to distinguish itself, which is reason for optimism and concern. Arizona State (7-3) is ranked 19th but is 1-3 against ranked teams.

“I thought on paper, because of the recruiting everybody did, the people who finished in the second tier of the Pac-10 are going to be way stronger this year, which I think makes a better overall conference,” WSU coach June Daugherty said. “We were able to get out of the basement last year. We want to keep making that climb.”

To prepare, the Cougars have strengthened their schedule.

“I’ve always believed to (improve in league) you’ve got to play good competition and a variety of competition so you’re exposed a little bit, good or bad, to know what it’s going to take,” she said. “I know we’re getting better each day. The schedule has been very challenging. We lost a couple of games we felt like we had it in our grasp and had some (breakdowns). That’s on us as a coaching staff … how are they supposed to know (how to react). Overall we’re getting better. I know in the long run in the big picture it’s getting better.”

Local players to watch: Brittney Kennedy (LC-OSU).

On tap

Gonzaga (10-4) plays UC Santa Barbara (3-8), the perennial Big West leader that has fallen on hard times tonight and then has nine days off before Portland visits to start West Coast Conference play. … Idaho (2-11), which beat the Gauchos Tuesday, is also off until Jan 9th, opening Western Athletic Conference play against visiting Fresno State (8-4). … Whitworth, which has played just at home just twice in nine games, opens Northwest Conference play on the road at Willamette on Saturday and Lewis & Clark on Sunday.




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