What was the best moment for Eastern Washington in its women’s basketball game with Gonzaga may have turned out to be its worst.
The underdog Eagles battled back from an 18-point deficit to take a brief lead late in the first half before the Bulldogs pulled away in the second half for an 87-61 win before 2,152 fans at McCarthey Athletic Center Tuesday night.
“Our kids play hard and we’re going to play hard whether we’re up 10 or down 10,” EWU coach Wendy Schuller said. “They kept battling and showed a lot of resilience when they were down to be able to make that run. It was good. I don’t know how good it was giving coach (Kelly) Graves some halftime fire to throw at them, but I was very proud of our kids.”
The Bulldogs’ coach did have a halftime message.
“I said, ‘Let’s do what we did in the first five minutes of the basketball game,’ ” Graves said after his sixth straight win over the rival neighbors. “I think we learned a lesson tonight. I think we took our foot off the gas pedal and relaxed.
“And coach Shuler does a great job. They don’t quit, they battled and they knocked a couple of 3s and suddenly you get a little momentum and we’re back on our heels. That can happen in this game. Right before halftime we made an important couple of plays that at least got us the lead and a little bit of momentum.”
Gonzaga (5-2) responded by outscoring the Eagles (4-3) 52-30 in the second half.
Heather Bowman led the way with 22 points – 16 in the second half – to go with eight rebounds. Courtney Vandersloot, who leads the nation in assists with 10 per game, had another 14 plus 13 points for her fourth straight points-assists double-double. Katelan Redmon, in her first start for an ill Janelle Bekkering, had 17 points and Vivian Frieson scored 11 with both grabbing six boards. GU dominated the glass 42-23, including 14-4 on the offensive end. Tiffany Shives also scored 11 to put all five starters in double figures.
“In the second half I felt pretty good, obviously,” Bowman said. “In the first half we didn’t come out with the intensity that we should. We did but we had a let down. The first half was slightly disappointing.”
Chene Cooper, a 5-foot reserve, led Eastern with 14 points, Julie Piper had 12 and 10 rebounds, and Jessica Huntington added 10 points.
The Bulldogs came out showing no ill effects from a 31-point loss at No. 2 Stanford on Sunday, scoring the first 12 points as all starters contributed and they pushed the lead to 22-4 midway through the first half.
The Eagles came to life with eight quick points, but it was still 26-12 at the 8:32 mark. From there, Eastern went on a 17-2 run to take a 29-28 lead. Cooper and Huntington fueled a 12-0 spurt with 3-pointers, Huntington getting two plus a driving layup. The Eagles made five straight shots while Gonzaga was turning the ball over six times on the way to 21 turnovers for the game.
“I thought we did some good things,” Schuller said. “The first minutes weren’t very pretty, obviously, especially on the offensive end, but I thought once we got some confidence, got the lid off a little bit and starting playing instead of overthinking the game, we did a nice job.”
Two layups by Vandersloot and a three-point play by Frieson fueled a spurt in the last minute to give Gonzaga a 35-31 lead at the break.
“I think the first 10 minutes was the response (to Stanford),” Bowman said. “After getting a beating like that, we want to come out hard. We just didn’t follow through.”