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Eastern, Idaho clash in Big Sky quarterfinals

UPDATED: Tue., March 7, 2017, 6:30 p.m.

Ashli Payne and the Eagles take on Idaho on Wednesday. (Courtesy EWU)
Ashli Payne and the Eagles take on Idaho on Wednesday. (Courtesy EWU)

RENO, Nevada – Self-confidence could be the deciding factor in Wednesday’s Big Sky Conference women’s quarterfinal game between Eastern Washington and Idaho.

Idaho’s Vandals are only 17-13, but they won this title last year and are playing like they mean to win another. Eastern has one of the best inside games in the field, and it has an extra day of rest on the Vandals, who advanced to the quarterfinals with an 83-68 win over Southern Utah on Monday.

“(Confidence) is extremely high, it has been,” Idaho coach Jon Newlee said after the game. “We are a tournament-tested team and I think it showed tonight when we got down.”

The Vandals were down by five late in the third quarter, but pulled away by shooting 7 for 11 in the fourth quarter.

Eastern coach Wendy Schuller saw that first-hand in Moscow on Feb. 19 when the Vandals shot 46 percent from 3-point range in a 78-51 rout.

“I think that our team is really confident that that game wasn’t us,” said Schuller, noting that senior point guard Tisha Phillips was playing with a sprained ankle.

Since then, EWU (17-12) has won three out of four to earn the fourth seed in the tournament.

“I think we’re as healthy as we’ve been all season,” said Shuller, who will count on Phillips and the inside duo of Delaney Hodgins (17.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game) and Ashli Paine (12.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg) to counter the Vandals’ outside game.

“When all three of those players are clicking, we’re hard to beat,” Schuller said.

All-Big Sky first-team selection Mikayla Ferenz leads the Vandals’ offense with her 17.6 point per game. As a team, the Vandals average 71.9 points per game.

Idaho features one of the most prolific 3-point-shooting teams in the Big Sky, as it made 299 during the regular season.

Eastern won the first meeting 67-57 on New Year’s Eve in Cheney.

The winner will face top-seeded Montana State (22-6) or No. 8 Weber State (13-17) in a semifinal at noon on Friday.

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