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Eastern Washington University Basketball
Sports >  EWU basketball

Big Sky Tournament: EWU, Idaho women look to make noise in Boise

UPDATED: Mon., March 9, 2020

Idaho forward Natalie Klinker, left wrestles the ball away from Eastern Washington center Bella Cravens during the first half of a college basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, in Cheney, Wash. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho forward Natalie Klinker, left wrestles the ball away from Eastern Washington center Bella Cravens during the first half of a college basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, in Cheney, Wash. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

One of the best Big Sky Conference Tournament runs in Eastern Washington history was followed by one of its worst regular seasons.

The Eagles, who advanced to the 2019 title game in Boise before falling 61-59 to Portland State in the closing minutes, shocked the tournament as a No. 6 seed.

The momentum of the Cinderella run didn’t carry over to EWU head coach Wendy Schuller’s 19th season.

The young Eagles (4-25, 3-17) wrapped up a regular season that included a 12-game Big Sky losing streak, a few heartbreaking defeats to quality opponents and a penultimate finish in the 11-team conference.

Hope springs eternal in March.

Tenth-seeded EWU opens Big Sky Tournament play on Monday against No. 7 seed Portland State at CenturyLink Arena in Boise, the winner advancing to Tuesday’s quarterfinal against second-seeded Idaho (20-9, 15-5).

Portland State (15-15, 9-11) was one of the three conference teams EWU beat in the regular season. The Eagles beat the Vikings 75-58 in Cheney last month, but fell 75-58 on the road in January.

EWU, which takes a five-game losing streak into the tournament, is one of the region’s youngest Division I teams. The Eagles start three sophomores and two freshmen.

Former Sandpoint star Grace Kirscher leads the Eagles in scoring (10.5 points per game) and fellow sophomore forward Bella Cravens averages a near double-double (10.2 ppg, 8.6 rebounds).

Jessica McDowell-White, a crafty point guard from Australia and one of the heroes of last year’s deep run, leads the Big Sky in total assists (151).

In December EWU nearly upset Mountain West Conference power Boise State 63-61 at home, a game in a loss, a game which the Eagles led by 11 late in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles also took outright Big Sky champion Montana State to double overtime in a 89-85 loss and fell to the West Coast Conference’s Pepperdine 53-52 on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

EWU has not won a conference tournament since 1987.

Idaho hopes to go deeper

One of the most consistent winners in the Big Sky Conference, No. 2 seed Idaho is aiming for its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2016.

The Vandals play Wednesday in Boise against the winner of Tuesday’s first-round game between No. 7 seed Portland State No. 10 seed Eastern Washington.

Idaho won the conference title last year, but was upset by Portland State in the semifinals. The Vandals went three rounds deep in the WNIT.

Head coach Jon Newlee’s squad was able to absorb the graduation of record-breaking senior guards Mikayla Ferenz and Taylor Pierce, and got the Vandals near the top of the conference.

Idaho has been paced by sophomore sharpshooter Gina Marxen (13.8 ppg), Beyonce Bea (12.7 ppg) and forward Lizzy Klinker (12.6 ppg).

The Vandals split with first-place Montana State (23-6, 19-1), handing the Bobcats their lone conference loss, a 69-68 decision in Bozeman.

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