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Women’s basketball notes: Eagles set to make run at Big Sky title

Riding a four-game winning streak, the Eastern Washington women’s basketball team has played its way into a shot at winning the Big Sky Conference. The Eagles have four home games remaining sandwiched around a pair of road games at league-leading Montana and Montana State. The Eagles already beat both Montana schools at home and, on paper, appear to be the favorites in the other four home games. “I’m not big on looking at who everybody else is playing and how they are doing,” coach Wendy Schuller said. “My life is hectic enough. But obviously you can look and see, ‘Hey, we are a game-and-a-half out.’ It’s crunch time.” Eastern, which has a ratings-percentage index of 153, is the only local women’s basketball program that has five players averaging better than 10 points a game. “We have a lot of ways we can score,” Schuller said. “I don’t think we are a team where you can shut down Lexie (Nelson) or Hayley (Hodgins) and we will struggle to score. I like the fact that we have kind of found our groove.” Schuller said the coach in her only allows her to focus on the next game. “It’s definitely nice to get four of the last six at home,” she said. “I know our team just plays better at home. We still have some young kids playing a lot of minutes. I feel like we still have some growth in front of us.”
Best Coast Conference
After winning 15 consecutive games, Gonzaga is getting a bit more national recognition. The Bulldogs are 31st in the AP poll and 32nd in the USA-Today Coaches poll. The Bulldogs (RPI 42) can win the West Coast Conference title for the 11th consecutive time with a victory Thursday over visiting Saint Mary’s (RPI 46). A win would also set a new record for 15 consecutive conference victories. After the game with the Gaels, the schedule gets no easier as Gonzaga finishes out the season by hosting fifth-place Pacific (RPI 51) on Sunday and traveling next week to play both San Diego (RPI 66) and BYU (RPI 64), which are both tied for third place in the conference. “I actually like it,” coach Lisa Fortier said of ending with the conference heavyweights. “It shows the improvements we’ve made and the improvements we need to make before we get to the WCC tournament … and postseason.” Fortier, a staunch believer in the one-game-at-a-time system, credited her team’s turnaround from a shaky start of the season to the guard play of junior Georgia Stirton and freshman Emma Stach. “I try to play mind games with myself and keep my expectations low,” she said. “But now that we are in striking distance, it’s exciting.” ESPN’s Charlie Crème’s latest “Bracketology” currently has Gonzaga as the lone member of the WCC seeded in his mock tournament bracket Last year, BYU was picked as an at-large selection and advanced to the Sweet 16. “I haven’t spent a whole lot of time studying that,” Fortier said. “I know we have a lot of teams with a high RPI. I think our conference is tough and very deserving of two teams. I hope the selection committee sees the same things we see.”
400 reasons to cheer
Washington State coach June Daugherty notched her 400th victory as a Division I head coach when the Cougars beat Utah last Sunday. But Daugherty wanted to talk more about how her team rallied after losing a tough game Friday to Colorado. “I thought it was a gutsy performance coming off of a tough loss,” she said. “I like how we responded.” Daugherty (400-363) earned 122 wins at Boise State from 1986-96, 191 wins at Washington from 1996-2007 and 87 wins in her eighth season in Pullman. “It’s nice but it’s time to move on,” Daugherty said of her milestone. “There is no time to really celebrate it. I appreciate the incredible talent and staffs I’ve had to work with.” The Cougars get the odd challenge of playing the same team twice this week: the Huskies. “We have our hands full. We have a tremendous challenge in front of us with Washington,” she said. The Cougars (RPI 67) travel to Seattle on Friday and return home to play the Huskies (RPI 21) in Pullman. The Huskies are led by sophomore guard Kelsey Plum, who is tied for sixth in the nation in scoring at 23 points a game. The Cougars’ Lia Galdeira (19.9) is tied for 31st in scoring. “She is amazing,” Daugherty said of Plum. “She’s such an intense competitor. It’s going to be guard-play extraordinaire. From a fan perspective, it’s going to be a great game.” Daugherty said she’s not a big fan of playing the same team twice within about 36 hours. “I think we are the only major conference that does it. There is nothing we can do about it,” she said. “It’s up to us as a staff to look at the different options offensively and defensively.”
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