Eastern Washington may have been surprised by its first-round opponent in the Women’s NIT basketball tournament, but it does give the Eagles a unique opportunity to gauge their progress.
EWU heads to Oregon tonight for a game against the Ducks, a repeat of a game in Eugene the first week of the season.
“I was a little surprised,” Eastern coach Wendy Schuller said. “There were other teams that were probably just as easy to go to regionally that I thought we could get sent to instead.
“We played on Nov. 16, almost four months to the day. We’ve been getting after it pretty hard for four months. It will be interesting to see things come full circle.”
The first outcome was an 86-48 loss.
“We had a lot of turnovers that were things that weren’t real smart on our behalf … we knew we could do a better job in the future,” Schuller said. “We’ve matured a lot as a team.”
The Ducks harassed the Eagles all over the court for 23 turnovers and brought them down with a barrage 3-pointers.
Taylor Lilley, a 5-foot-6 senior, hit 7 of 14 3-pointers en route to 28 points.
“She shoots the 3 as well as any player in America,” Schuller said. “She has a quick release. In conference play she shot 45 percent – that’s unbelievable – and had 72 3s. We have to have her on our radar constantly.”
The Duck average 81.4 points, fourth in the nation, and Lilley leads three guards in double figures at 17.6 points a game. Amanda Johnson, a 6-2 forward who averages 12.2 points, leads the front line. Nicole Canepa (6-5) came off the bench to score 17 against the Eagles.
“They have some big kids that give us some matchup issues with their size and strength,” Schuller said. “They’re a Pac-10 team and they have Pac-10 players that are just a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger than we see.
“But first and foremost we have to be aware of the 3-point shooting.”
Oregon stumbled down the stretch, losing seven straight to finish tied for sixth in the Pac-10 at 7-11.
The last postseason appearance for the Ducks was the 2007 WNIT and they won the tournament in 2002.
The Eagles could be without their best 3-point shooter, Kyla Evans, a second-team all-Big Sky selection who missed the conference tournament with back spasms.
Combined with foul trouble for league MVP Julie Piper, Eastern lost to Montana State 65-57 in the conference tournament semifinals, dashing the Eagles’ hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament 23 years after their only other trip.
“It’s a good chance to go out and play another game in the postseason. We haven’t done that in a while,” Piper said after last Friday’s loss. “We want to win a game there and end the season on a high note. I don’t want it to end on this note and I am glad we still have that chance. We will play better basketball.”
If the Eagles win, they’ll play New Mexico between Saturday and Tuesday.