MISSOULA – The Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team continues to make strides under Wendy Schuller, but the next one is going to be difficult.
The Eagles (16-11) enter the Big Sky tournament tonight matching their highest seed (fourth) since the tournament went to six teams in 1996. They face Idaho State (12-15) in a game scheduled for 6:35 p.m., hoping to win a first-round game for the fourth straight year.
With a win, EWU would face Big Sky champion Montana (20-7) at 6:35 p.m. Friday, trying to advance to the title game for the first time.
“I think our mindset will be really good,” Schuller said. “We know we’re capable of playing really well. We’ve done it within the last week. The main thing we’re preaching to our team is right now everybody is 0-0. This is the second chance for everybody who didn’t win a championship. Let’s take this opportunity, work hard and go get it.”
The Eagles pulled out a double-overtime win at Northern Arizona last Thursday, putting them in line to get the third seed, but they lost by 16 at Sacramento State on Saturday.
That meant the Eagles swept third-seeded NAU (18-9) but were swept by sixth-seeded Sacramento State (8-19). A Sacramento State upset of NAU in tonight’s first game would pit the Eagles against Weber State (20-7), a team they split with, instead of the Grizzlies.
“Weber and Montana are both playing really well right now,” Schuller said. “It’s almost like picking your poison. We’re not thinking about anything besides (tonight’s) game. No matter who we played (either night), we know we have to get ready to play and come bring it.”
Eastern defeated ISU 65-52 in Cheney but lost 80-69 in Pocatello. In the Bengals’ win, 6-foot-1 forward Molly Hays hit a Big Sky single-game record 18 free throws en route to a career-high 27 points.
“They’ve got a couple of really nice solid post players as well as perimeter kids that can shoot the lights out,” Schuller said of ISU. “We’re going to have to really defend.”
The long-range shooters include senior guard Christa Brossman of Pullman, who ended up 11th in the conference in scoring at 11.1 points a game despite missing six games after a December foot injury.
Before Schuller’s arrival, the Eagles never won a tournament game in five previous appearances. During her three years, they have won their first-round games.
“We’ve been so up and down, but after last week feel like we’re playing well,” she said. “Obviously, we didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday, but Thursday we were fresh, ready, focused like you have to be in the conference tournament.”
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