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Eagles hope to make most of extra game

Eastern Washington will close its 2008-9 men’s basketball season — again — when it faces Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif.

You can read an unedited version fo the game advance that will appear in Friday morning’s S-R below, and you can read the game notes supplied by EWU’s sports information department here.

And feel free to leave your thoughts on Friday night’s game. Do the Eags have a shot?  Did Saint Mary’s make a big mistake in scheduling this game?  And how would you, as a college basketball player, react to playing such a game after thinking your season had ended almost two weeks earlier?

 


 

Don’t expect Eastern Washington University to show up in Moraga, Calif., tonight wearing Washington Generals jerseys.

 

 

That might indicate the Eagles are treating their unexpected late-season matchup against Saint Mary’s College as an exhibition game in which they play the role of flunkies against the Gaels, much like the Generals do against the Harlem Globetrotters,.

 

 

And nothing could be further from the truth.

 

 

“We’re not going down there just to play another game,” Eastern’s junior point guard Gary Gibson said earlier this week in reference to tonight’s game, which tips off at 7:05 in McKeon Pavilion. “We’re going down there to play our hardest, get a ‘W’ and put ourselves on the map.”

 

 

The Eagles (12-17) have already gotten some publicity mileage out of their unscheduled game against Saint Mary’s Gaels (25-6), which was mentioned several times by ESPN announcers working the national telecast of the Gaels’ 83-58 loss to Gonzaga in Monday night’s finals of the West Coast Conference Tournament.

 

 

What makes the game so intriguing is that Saint Mary’s, which was ranked in the top-25 earlier this year before losing standout point guard Patty Mills with a broken hand, is paying Eastern $40,000 to fly down and play the extra game both schools had coming because of different NCAA schedule exemptions.

 

 

The Gaels’ plan, as it was explained to EWU coach Kirk Earlywine, was to play another game so Mills, who returned to action in the WCC semifinals following an extended layoff, could further re-acclimate himself in preparation for postseason play.

 

 

At the time the game was set up, Saint Mary’s seemed to have a decent chance of making the NCAA, even if it lost to Gonzaga in the WCC title game. But after being blown out by the Zags, the Gaels appear to have played themselves onto the NCAA bubble – which could explode in their faces should they lose to Eastern.

 

 

And that’s just fine with the Eagles, who thought their season had ended almost two weeks ago when they lost their regular-season finale to Portland State in overtime and failed to qualify for the Big Sky Conference Tournament.

 

 

“We have a chance to send them to the NIT,” junior guard Benny Valentine, the Eagles leading scorer, said of the Gaels. “We’re going down there to be spoilers. We’re coming in with nothing to lose, and a team with nothing to lose is a dangerous team.”

 

 

Gibson added he would have no problem with crushing any remaining NCAA hopes the Gaels might still have in front of their own fans.

 

 

“That’s what fuels our fire,” he said. “We’ve got to prove to them that they picked the wrong team to tune up against.”

 

 

Despite losing four of their last five regular-season games, the Eagles might be able to draw some confidence from how they fared against the University of Portland, which was the only common opponent on the two teams’ schedules this winter.

 

 

Eastern beat the Pilots in Portland 63-58 in early December, while Saint Mary’s – playing without Mills – split their two encounters, losing 84-66 in Portland on Jan. 31 and winning 77-65 in Moraga on Feb. 14.

 

 

“We’re sure not going down there and treat the game like an exhibition,” said EWU’s Andy Genoa, one of four seniors on the Eagles’ roster whose careers have been unexpectedly extended. “If we can keep them out of the NCAA Tournament by beating them, that’s great.

 

 

“If we’re not making it, they’re not making it.”

 

 

Milan Stanojevic, another of Eastern’s seniors, figures the Eagles have a good chance to spring an upset, provided they can contain Mills, who is averaging 17.8 points and 3.7 assists per game.

 

 

“We’re going down there to prove we’re actually a better team than we showed this year,” he said. “This is our chance, especially us seniors, to end with a win.

 

 

“And if we do, it’s going to be national news.”

 


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Jim Allen (@srjimallen) Sports reporter Jim Allen's primary coverage areas are Eastern Washington University football and men's basketball, and college and high school soccer. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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