MISSOULA – The smallest Eagle on the court was anything but little on Wednesday evening at Dahlberg Arena.
Sophomore point guard Kylie Huerta – generously listed at 5-foot-1, making her the shortest starter in the Big Sky Conference – imposed her will on the Montana State Bobcats, pushing Eastern Washington into the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference women’s basketball tournament.
In 40 minutes of action, Huerta finished with 12 points, nine assists and six steals in EWU’s 68-53 win. During the 21-2 run that broke open a previously close contest and gave EWU a commanding 47-31 advantage, Huerta had three steals and four assists. Two of Huerta’s assists found freshman Hayley Hodgins, who finished with 11 points, for two of her three 3-pointers. The other two Huerta helpers found sophomore guard Lexie Nelson, who finished with a game-high 18 points, for 3-point makes.
“We really got out and ran in the second half and I felt like I was just finding a lot of my shooters like Lexie and Hayley just spotting up,” said Huerta, a native of Covington, Wash. “I think it really did start defensively, getting steals, getting blocks. We just got out and ran.”
EWU’s offense in the second half wasn’t just fast-paced, it was devastatingly efficient. Eastern hit 17 of 30 shots (56.7 percent) following intermission and shot 48.3 percent from the floor overall. The Eagles, the top field-goal and 3-point shooting team in the league entering the tournament, were 7 of 19 (37 percent) from beyond the arc.
Aubrey Ashenfelter (12 points) and Laura Hughes (13 points) joined Nelson, Huerta and Hodgins in double-figure scoring. Hughes was 6 of 6 from the floor before leaving after hitting her head on the floor.
“When we share the basketball, we are a really good team,” EWU head coach Wendy Schuller said. “In the first half, we spent a lot of time going one-on-one. In the second half, we shared the ball a lot better with each other.”
The win propels the third-seeded Eagles into Friday’s 10 a.m. Pacific semifinal. EWU will take on second-seeded Northern Colorado, a 67-56 winner over Southern Utah in the tournament’s first game.
“It will be nice to decompress a little bit,” Schuller said of her team’s day off. “We can enjoy this a little bit instead of having to go back to the hotel and rush through a scout and be ready to play tomorrow at noon.”