EWU women lose chance to host tournament

Eagles drop third straight game

There is still plenty of women’s basketball left for Eastern Washington this season, but it won’t be played at Reese Court.

Idaho State’s Ashleigh Vella scored all 21 of her points in the second half to lead the Bengals to a 63-50 Big Sky Conference women’s basketball victory Saturday afternoon in Cheney.

For Idaho State, that means it will host the Big Sky tournament on March 8-10. For Eastern, it means a chance to regroup from a three-game losing streak.

“Everything is about us and what we’re going to do, and if we’re going to come together or not,” said EWU coach Wendy Schuller, whose team had won six straight before the current skid.

“Were still playing for a lot, and you want to play well going into the conference tournament.”

The Eagles, 10-5 in the Big Sky and 16-12 overall, still have a shot to clinch at least a tie for second place with one game left in the regular season, at Idaho State on Saturday. Montana State and Northern Colorado are 9-5.

Encouraged by a Senior Day crowd of 845 that braved a late-winter snowstorm, the Eagles started strongly.

In a physical first half, Carrie Ojeda set the tone by forcing two early turnovers that fueled an early 7-0 Eastern lead in the first 2 minutes. EWU still led 13-7 after 8 minutes, but the Bengals reeled off eight straight to lead 17-15.

Then Eastern regained some momentum, capping a 6-0 run with Chene Cooper’s jumper that made it 21-17 with 4:28 left in the half. But the Bengals, getting nine in the half from Chelsea Pickering, outscored Eastern 10-4 before intermission.

Amazingly, none of those first-half Bengal points came from Vella, who averages 10 a game, but she got loose and made all seven of her field-goal attempts in the second half, including three from long range.

EWU trailed by two early in the second half, but Vella scored 10 points in the next 2 minutes, and suddenly ISU was up 40-29.

Another Eagle rally cut the gap to six with 13 minutes left, but Vella tacked on seven more in the next 4 minutes as the Bengals (13-2 and 21-7) kept at least a nine-point lead the rest of the way.

“We thought we had a chance to get back in it, and then she strikes,” said Schuller, whose team struggled for open shots against the league’s top-ranked defense. Eastern shot just 15 for 49 from the field, or 31 percent, for the game.

“They just did a good job of getting back in transition. I still think we can do a better job than we did in transition today.”

The Eagles had one last chance when Laura Hughes’ layup and free throw narrowed the gap to 51-42 with 6:46 left, but Vella answered with two free throws and then another three in less than a minute to make it 56-42.

Senior forward Brianne Ryan led the Eagles with 11 points, but missed eight of her first nine shots against a tenacious defense.

“We know we’re better than that,” said senior guard Chene Cooper, who scored seven of the Eagles’ first nine points. “We just didn’t knock down shots and when you don’t knock down shots, it’s hard to run in transition.”

In pre-game ceremonies, the Eagles honored seniors Cooper, Ryan, Breauna Russell and Jennifer Cogburn.

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