EWU women lose chance to host tournament

SUNDAY, FEB. 26, 2012

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, 16-12 overall and 10-5 in the Big Sky, 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 a 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.

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 Eagles rally cut the gap to six with 13 minutes left, but Vella tacked on seven more in the next 4 minutes as the Bengals (21-7, 13-2) 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,” Schuller said. “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 a two free throws and yet another three in less than 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 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 pregame ceremonies, the Eagles honored seniors Cooper, Ryan, Breauna Russell and Jennifer Cogburn.

Utah State 85, Idaho 63: The Aggies (18-8, 9-3) took advantage of 20 Vandals turnovers and free-throw opportunities in downing Idaho in a Western Athletic Conference game at Logan, Utah.

The Aggies scored 28 points off Vandals turnovers and hit 26 of 30 free-throw attempts. The Vandals only took 12 free throws, making nine.

Alyssa Charlston led Idaho (9-19, 4-8) with 17 points and had a team-high eight rebounds. Stacey Barr added 10 points.

A 23-0 run midway through the first half gave Utah State the lead for good.

Idaho finishes the regular season this week with home games against San Jose State on Thursday and Hawaii on Saturday.

North Idaho College 69, Southern Idaho 63: The Cardinals (22-4, 11-2) clinched the Scenic West Athletic Conference regular-season title with a victory over the Eagles (15-13, 7-6) in Coeur d’Alene.

Katie Buskey scored 26 points and Korina Baker (Freeman) and Julia Salmio added 15 apiece.

Neither team shot better than 40 percent but the Cardinals scored 22 points off 19 CSI turnovers. The Cardinals also had an edge at the free-throw line, hitting 20 of 30 while CSI made 11 of 16.

CSI led 20-19 at the half.

NIC has two regular-season games remaining before it travels to Salt Lake for the conference tournament. As the No. 1 seed, the defending national champions receive a bye into the semifinals on March 9.

Blue Mountain 57, CC Spokane 48: The Sasquatch closed out their season with a loss to the Timberwolves in Pendleton, Ore.

CCS (7-19, 2-12) finished last in the NWAACC East Division.

Carli Elwin scored 12 points and Megan Tullis had 10 rebounds for CCS, which committed 18 turnovers and shot only 29.8 percent from the field. Stephanie Lopez led Blue Mountain with 32 points.

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