MISSOULA – As Wendy Schuller sees it, her first 20-win season at Eastern Washington was earned years ago.
Moments after the Eagles dispatched Northern Arizona 73-57 in the Big Sky Conference quarterfinals Wednesday night, “my phone was blowing up with texts,” Schuller said.
Congratulatory messages poured from many former players “who’ve worked hard to get us to this point,” said Schuller, recalling names from more than a decade ago.
“It’s something that’s been a long time coming,” said Schuller, now in her 14th year.
It’s been even longer for the Eagles, whose last 20-win season came in 1984-85.
Next up: the rubber game of a three-game match with tournament host Montana, which beat Idaho State in the nightcap at Dahlberg Arena.
The Eagles will have a day off to hit the refresh button before Friday’s semifinal. That’s a good thing, as all five EWU starters played at least 28 minutes despite the one-sided outcome.
Wednesday’s game was hardly your typical No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup. EWU finished three games ahead of the Lumberjacks and clobbered NAU 73-42 in their lone meeting in Cheney on Feb. 21.
There was no overconfidence, however.
“That was just a big part of coming into this game, knowing that we can’t overlook anyone,” said guard Hayley Hodgins, who finished with a game-high 22 points.
By intermission, the lead was 42-20 and Eastern was dominating in every statistical category: 49 percent shooting compared with 35 percent for NAU; a 23-12 advantage on the boards and defense that forced 13 turnovers.
“More than anything, I’m proud of our effort,” Schuller said. “I thought we came out focused on both ends, our defense got us some momentum, and we’re playing the way you want to play in March.”
This one got out of hand quickly, with Eastern taking leads of 9-2, 28-11 and 40-14 before NAU responded.
On one possession, Eastern (20-10) missed four straight shots, but snagged every rebound before Hodgins drilled a 3-pointer from the side to give the Eagles 22-11 lead.
“We just wanted to come out and play hard,” said guard Jade Redmon, who scored 16 points while going 7 for 10 from the field. She also had 10 rebounds.
“We wanted to be the aggressor and come out and take charge,” Redmon said.
The Lumberjacks, who finished 13-17, played Eastern evenly in the second half but never got closer than 14.
“We responded when we needed to respond,” said Schuller, whose team has won nine of its last 11 games.
EWU shot 31 for 70 from the field and 6 for 17 from beyond the arc. NAU was 21 for 52 from the field and 5 for 17 from long range.
The Eagles dominated on the boards, outrebounding NAU 42-31.
Brittani Lusain led NAU with 16 points. Senior Raven Anderson picked up a double-double with 12 points and 12 boards in her NAU finale.
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