The Big Sky Conference women’s basketball opener between defending regular-season champion Eastern Washington and tournament champion Portland State was a battle at Reese Court Saturday afternoon.
The difference was that three EWU Eagles helped pick up for reigning conference Most Valuable Player Julie Piper, but PSU’s Kelli Valentine (Mead High) had no such help.
Brianne Ryan had 20 points and 10 rebounds, Tatjana Sparavalo came off the bench for 15 and 11, and point guard Chene Cooper had 16 points and seven assists as the Eagles turned back the Vikings 70-62.
“The calls didn’t go my way,” Piper said after her 9-minute outing. “That’s why we’re a team. Whenever your name gets called, Coach expects you to produce. They got it done, credit to them.”
Meanwhile, the trip home didn’t go Valentine’s way. The PSU senior got just 14 minutes before fouling out with three points, seven less than her average.
“With Kelli Valentine out and our starting post home with a knee injury, our other kids just didn’t step up offensively,” Vikings coach Sherri Murrell said. “It put a lot of pressure on our guards. But I give Eastern Washington credit. … We just had a poor shooting night.”
After the teams slogged through a first half with four ties and seven lead changes to a 28-28 tie, the Eagles (5-8 overall) led the entire second half.
“We came out and played our style of basketball,” EWU coach Wendy Schuller said. “We played with more intensity. … We just kind of flew around.
“I thought the first half was kind of boring.”
With Cooper scoring twice and Ryan going coast-to-coast, the Eagles scored the first six points of the second half. They worked that up to 53-40 on Ryan’s three-point play with 8:17 left.
The Vikings (7-7) came back, using the free-throw line to creep within 57-56 with 3:52 to play. That’s when Piper demanded the ball for an inside basket and made a layup to settle the Eagles down.
“I had a lot of energy sitting on the bench,” Piper said. “It’s easy to be out there demanding the ball, posting up hard and running the floor.”
Piper finished with four points and two rebounds, one-third of her regular production.
“The last 3 or 4 minutes down the stretch we executed offensively,” Schuller said. “Ryan and (Sparavalo) were just monsters off the glass and I thought that was a huge difference for us.”
Kelly Marchant had 17 points for PSU and Eryn Jones 16.
EWU, which has one other home game this month, shot 44.8 percent in the second half to 21.4 for PSU. The teams combined for 49 fouls and 57 free throws (44 made).