Eastern Washington coach Wendy Schuller figures she gained a few gray hairs last weekend, but her young team gained something more important.
Saturday’s 60-57 home win over North Dakota was earned the hard way. When their shots wouldn’t drop, the Eagles compensated with defense and rebounding. Finally, perseverance paid off with a late 10-point rally that improved EWU to 8-6 overall and 2-0 in the Big Sky Conference.
“It’s the kind of win that feels good after you do them, but during the process it doesn’t feel very good,” said Schuller, whose team faces another big test at Idaho (10-4 overall, 2-0 Big Sky) on Saturday. Schuller wouldn’t call it a showdown – it’s too early for that.
“We’re still a work in progress,” said Schuller, who led the Eagles to a 21-win season last year but is relying on several underclassmen to support senior guard Hayley Hodgins.
One of them is Hodgins’ younger sister Delaney, who scored 21 points and grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds against North Dakota. She also blocked three shots.
“I thought she had a great freshman year, and has worked hard in the off-season,” Schuller said. “We’re blessed to have her, and it’s exciting to see her get better and take over games.”
Junior transfer Ashi Payne is averaging 10.7 points and 7.4 rebounds. “She’s been a difference-maker for us,” Schuller said.
The Eagles are hampered by the absence of point guard Tisha Phillips, who’s recovering from a sprained ankle. That’s “thrown us off a notch,” Schuller said, because it’s put more of the ball-handling chores on shooting guard Hayley Hodgins.
“I don’t feel like we played our best basketball yet,” Schuller said.
Meanwhile, the Vandals appear to be hitting their stride again. Idaho has won three straight, including a 66-56 win over Northern Colorado on Saturday.
Once 7-0 and getting votes in the national polls, the Vandals had dropped four straight before getting their act together.
“Once everybody is clicking and we are playing as a unit – we do not think we can be stopped,” point guard Kaylee Wilson said. “We come out with a chip on our shoulder every game. We know that we have to prove ourselves.”
Idaho is getting 14.1 points a six rebounds a game from post Geraldine McCorkell, who hit a trio of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter against UNC, but the Vandals are winning with defense. Idaho opponents are shooting just 37 percent from the field and 27 percent from long range.
After Saturday’s win, coach Jon Newlee said, “Defensively, we did not let our offensive struggle affect us like we have maybe in the past.”
“I think we are really buying into our defense-first mentality,” Newlee said.
As it did last year, defense is carrying Gonzaga in West Coast Conference action.
The Bulldogs are alone in first place thanks to gritty effort Saturday against Santa Clara, in which GU failed to score down the stretch but made sure the Broncos did likewise.
In holding Santa Clara to 23 percent shooting, the Zags (13-4 overall and 4-0 in the WCC) lowered their field goal-percentage defense to 34.1 for the season, and 30 percent in conference play.
Going into Saturday’s game at Portland (2-13 and 0-4), the Bulldogs have gone 107 straight minutes without being behind. Santa Clara missed its first seven shots from the field and was held to 1-of-10 in the first quarter.
June Daugherty earned her 100th win at Washington State in timely fashion on Monday, as the Cougars won their first Pac-12 game of the season, 74-66 at Colorado.
Daugherty, who previously coached at Washington, is the first coach in Pac-12 Conference history to win 100 games with multiple conference programs (Washington). She also became the third coach in WSU program history to reach 100 victories, after Sue Durant (134), and Harold Rhodes (194).
WSU (10-4 overall and 1-2 in the Pac-12) will return to Pullman to begin a two-week homestand. The Cougars play Arizona on Friday at 7 p.m.
After scoring 56 points in two games last weekend, Montana forward Kayleigh Valley is the Big Sky Conference player of the week.
The junior from Spokane’s University High School scored 27 Saturday in the Grizzlies’ 66-60 home win over Southern Utah, a game that also saw her pull down 13 rebounds for her first collegiate double-double.
Two nights earlier, Valley scored 29 points on 10-for-18 shooting in an 81-58 win over Northern Arizona.
Valley, the Washington Class 3A player of the year in 2013, led U-Hi to back-to-back state tournament appearances as a junior and senior.
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