Eastern, Idaho women enter as solid No. 3 seeds
Eastern Washington made its lone appearance in the NCAA tournament 26 years ago.
Idaho’s only tourney berth came two years before that.
Yet it wouldn’t be too surprising if one – or both – claimed tournament spots by winning conference championships on Saturday.
Both teams are seeded third and begin play today at their conference tournaments.
EWU (18-11) opens the Big Sky Conference tournament in Missoula at 4:30 p.m. against sixth-seeded Montana State (17-12). Idaho (14-15) plays No. 6 San Jose State (11-18) at noon in Las Vegas.
EWU made the national tournament in 1987 as a member of the Mountain West Conference. The Eagles lost at Oregon 75-56.
Idaho, also in the Mountain West when it made the tournament in 1985, lost to USC 74-51 to finish that season 28-2. Its other loss that season was to EWU.
Eastern won 11 of its last 14 regular-season games this year while MSU dropped eight of its last 11. The Eagles lost to MSU in early January but bounced back for a 68-59 win in Bozeman four weeks later.
The Big Sky field shouldn’t intimidate EWU, which split with top-seeded Montana (22-7) and second-seeded Northern Colorado (18-11).
“It’s a one-game season and we’re not looking any further ahead than (today) against Montana State,” EWU coach Wendy Schuller said.
Today’s winner will meet the highest remaining seed in Friday’s semifinals.
Eastern’s leaders are redshirt sophomore guard Lexie Nelson (14.3 ppg), senior center Carrie Ojeda (10.6 ppg, 7.3 ppg) and sophomore guard Kylie Huerta (4.4 apg).
Idaho has won eight of its last 12 games. Its last three losses have all been by two points, including Saturday’s setback to top-seeded Seattle (18-9) on a buzzer-beater.
“It (was) a great game to play before we hit Las Vegas when the real pressure is going to hit,” Idaho coach Jon Newlee said after the loss.
Although the Vandals were swept by Seattle and second-seeded Utah State (17-12) this season, three of the four losses were by six points or less.
Idaho swept San Jose State (11-18) this season, winning both games by 17 points.
Today’s winner will meet either Utah State or seventh-seeded Denver (15-16) at noon Friday in a semifinal.
Idaho’s leaders are junior guard/post Alyssa Charlston (13.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg), freshman wing Christina Salvatore (11.3 ppg) and freshman guard Connie Ballestero (3.4 apg).
Cardinals know first rival: North Idaho drew a familiar opponent for its opener at the NJCAA Division I national tournament.
The 12th-seeded Cardinals (28-4) will play Williston (N.D.) State at 2:30 p.m. Monday in Salina, Kan. NIC defeated the 21st-seeded Tetons (30-3) 58-46 on Nov. 8 at Williston.
The Cardinals won the national title two years ago. NIC was ranked second in early February but went 5-3 down the stretch. All three losses were to Region 18 tournament champion Southern Idaho (21-11), the tourney’s seventh seed.
Difficult finish: Gonzaga-bound Bayli McClard’s prep career ended on a down note.
McClard’s Hanford (Calif.) High team was left out of postseason competition after coach Tom Parrish refused to show up for regionals. The Bullpups had received a third seed to the sectional tournament and Parrish thought his team deserved a No. 1 seed.
McClard, the 29th-ranked wing in the nation, according to ESPN HoopGurlz, finished her career with 1,795 points.