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Sports >  EWU basketball

Top-seeded Northern Arizona pulls away from Eastern Washington in Big Sky semifinals 74-57

March 7, 2023 Updated Tue., March 7, 2023 at 5:34 p.m.

Eastern Washington forward Camille Jentzsch drives against Northern Arizona during Tuesday’s Big Sky Tournament semifinal in Boise. Northern Arizona won 74-57.  (Courtesy of EWU Athletics)
Eastern Washington forward Camille Jentzsch drives against Northern Arizona during Tuesday’s Big Sky Tournament semifinal in Boise. Northern Arizona won 74-57. (Courtesy of EWU Athletics)
By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

BOISE – Shrinks and working stiffs agree there’s nothing as restorative as a day off.

The Big Sky Conference’s new basketball tournament format hard-wires a rest day as a reward – and some protection – for the top two seeds, and the efficacy was born out midway through Tuesday’s first women’s semifinal.

And as a result, Eastern Washington won’t be faced with going back to work for a while.

A day after the Eagles did an Energizer Bunny number on Montana to reach the semis, the same was done to them by top-seeded Northern Arizona in a 74-57 loss at Idaho Central Arena.

It sends the Lumberjacks into Wednesday’s championship game against fellow regular-season champion Sacramento State – and the Eagles into contemplating what seems to be a bright future.

“We have some young players – six freshmen and no seniors,” said EWU coach Joddie Gleason, who took the Eagles from nine wins to 19 in her second year. “Hopefully, we’ll have everyone back and grow from this year.”

And perhaps be in a position for one of those high-seed off days.

Eastern found itself locked into comeback mode early against NAU, which made three 3-pointers in the first 3 minutes and zipped to a lead that reached 16-9 in the opening quarter. The Eagles regained their footing in the second quarter, taking the lead on three occasions – Jacinta Buckley providing some outside firepower, Jamie Loera her usual defensive grit and Jaleesa Lawrence some important glue.

But there were ominous signs.

Freshman Aaliyah Alexander had to take her scoring pop to the bench with her second foul just 43 seconds into the second quarter.

Loera – who scored inside and out against UM – started out just 2 of 9 from the field.

And the Lumberjacks had almost doubled up EWU on the glass, getting 10 points on second chances.

“Rebounding wins games – we’ve seen that all season,” Loera said. “We had to dial in on their rebounding and we fell short a little bit. They had a lot of extra opportunities.”

And then the Eagles missed their first five shots of the third quarter – and managed just one field goal after the midquarter timeout as NAU’s up-tempo attack and size took their toll.

“They’d played yesterday,” NAU coach Loree Payne said. “We just saw the second half being an advantage to us. If we maintained our tempo, our training at 7,000 feet in Flagstaff comes into play and our day off comes into play.

“Our players weren’t as tired and it’s an advantage for us to push the tempo.”

Nor did it hurt that the Jacks could get a 3 almost at will from Regan Schenck (22 points) or Nyah Moran (16), who were a combined 8 of 12 from the arc. And there was an X factor in Sophie Glancy, a 6-foot-2 freshman playing in her hometown – and putting together a 13-point, 10-board double-double in just 17 minutes.

NAU’s lead reached 19 late in the third quarter and was never under 10 the rest of the way, as the Eagles shot just 21% in the second half. Loera finished 4 of 19 and Alexander 3 of 10, though her ability to get to the foul line was EWU’s only offense in the fourth quarter. She finished with 16 points, and while Buckley had a double-double of 15 and 11.

“It’s disappointing,” Gleason said. “I didn’t feel we played the style we’ve been playing all year and a lot of that had to do with NAU – they’re long and athlete and rebound the heck out of it. They controlled the game.”

Still, it’s been easy to see the progress of the program, and the possibilities. Gleason said Loera, a graduate student, plans to return for another year, and the Eagles also look to the return of Jaydia Martin, the team’s leading scorer who missed the last month of the season with a leg injury.

“Our goal is to get better every day and every game,” Gleason season, “and we can look at the last two years and say we did that.”

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