Eastern Washington’s motto this week: two for the road.
For several reasons, the Eagles could use a sweep this weekend at Sacramento State and Portland State.
Halfway through Big Sky Conference play, Eastern is 6-3 and contending for an upper-division finish.
That’s not bad, considering the Eagles were picked to finish seventh (out of 12 teams) in the preseason polls.
Coach Shantay Legans wants more.
“It’s human nature – we want to win the conference championship,” said Legans, whose club is tied for third place behind Montana (9-0) and Weber State (6-2).
The Eagles have both teams left on their schedule, but there’s little margin for error.
“We have to play and compete in every game we play. If we can run the table to the end, that’s great, but we have to take each one game by game,” Legans said.
After splits in their last six Big Sky Conference road trips dating back to the 2015-16, the Eagles have a golden chance to end that streak this week against teams that sit 3-5 in league play.
First up are the Sacramento State Hornets, who are coming off a 71-61 win at Portland State last weekend but lost to the Eagles 82-67 in Cheney on Jan. 4. In that game, the Hornets double-teamed Bogdan Bliznyuk, holding him to two points but giving up double-figure scoring to five Eagles.
Since then, Bliznyuk became Eastern’s leading career scorer and is the current Big Sky player of the week after averaging 27 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in home wins over North Dakota and Northern Colorado.
On Saturday, PSU will bring its pressure and fast pace, which kept the Vikings in the game until the final minute of a 71-64 loss in Cheney on Jan. 6.
Bliznyuk’s supporting cast is always ready to step up.
“You have to be ready for those sorts of things,” said forward Mason Peatling, who’s coming off his third consecutive double-double in a win Saturday over Northern Colorado.
That win avenged a loss at UNC in the conference opener on Dec. 29, the only convincing defeat the Eagles have suffered in league play so far.
“To be honest, I thought we would have a better record than we have now,” Legans said. “We’ve lost some games I thought we’ve given away. We had leads and we didn’t secure it the right way. We’re learning as we go and I think our team is really good.”
Statistics bear that out. Over the last four games, Eastern has outshot opponents 46.7 percent to 41.6 percent. The Eagles have also averaged plus-2.5 on the boards.