Eastern down, but not quite out
Last week’s back-to-back road losses to Big Sky Conference rivals Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona cleared up much of the murkiness surrounding Eastern Washington University’s flickering chances of qualifying for the six-team BSC tournament that starts next Saturday.
Now, the Eagles (8-20 overall and 4-10 in the Big Sky) are faced with the stark reality of having to beat league-leading Weber State (18-8, 12-2) on Friday and Idaho State (7-20, 4-10) on Saturday – and then have both of those teams knock off Portland State (10-17, 5-9), which currently sits alone in sixth place in the league standings – in order to extend their season.
“This is what we’ve played ourselves into,” third-year head coach Kirk Earlywine said. “Obviously, there is no wiggle room. But we can’t look at it as having to win two games quite yet. Right now, we have to look strictly at Weber State – we can’t beat both Weber State and Idaho State on Friday.”
Eastern and ISU are currently tied for seventh, a game behind Portland State. Idaho State, which beat PSU in overtime earlier in the year, could still make the tournament by tying with the Vikings for sixth, especially if they knock them off again on Friday and earn the head-to-head tiebreaking advantage.
But the Eagles need to finish ahead of PSU, which beat them twice during the regular season, to nab the final spot in the tourney.
Weber State, Northern Colorado, Montana State, Montana and Northern Arizona have all clinched tournament berths.
Saturday night’s regular-season finale against the Idaho State Bengals will mark the final home game for five Eastern Washington University seniors – Brandon Moore, Mark Dunn, Matt Brunell, Benny Valentine and Gary Gibson.
Of the five, only Moore has lettered four times. And the popular 6-foot-9 center will go into Saturday’s Senior Night having played in 114 games and ranked second on the school’s career blocked shots list with 85. He is fourth on the Eagles’ list in career rebounds with 673.
It’s a trip Idaho takes every year, but it never gets easier.
The Vandals got on a bus Tuesday afternoon to trek to two hard-to-reach WAC campuses in Las Cruces, N.M., and Ruston, La. They spent 10 hours traveling Tuesday, and were set to fly to Dallas today – after a 9 p.m. local time start at New Mexico State on Wednesday – before a 51/2-hour bus ride to Ruston.
Coach Don Verlin doesn’t mind the long jaunt, especially if it helps prepare UI for the WAC tournament in Reno. “It’s a long trip, but it’s a good trip because we’re playing two of the best teams in the conference,” Verlin said.