Arrow-right Camera
Subscribe now
Eastern Washington University Basketball

First-place Eastern Washington expects ‘best game’ from Idaho

Eastern Washington head coach David Riley, crouched, huddles with his team during a Big Sky Conference game against Portland State on Monday in Portland.  (Courtesy of Portland State Athletics)
By Dan Thompson The Spokesman-Review

Perched atop the Big Sky Conference standings, Eastern Washington expects to get the proverbial “best game” from its opponents each time out.

And by that logic, every Eagles opponent is a dangerous one.

Such is the scenario Saturday, when Eastern (15-8, 9-1 Big Sky) hosts the Idaho Vandals (9-14, 3-7), winners of two straight – and nearly three – coming off a three-games-in-five-days road trip similar to the one the Eagles just finished.

“They’re playing really, really tough defense,” EWU men’s basketball head coach David Riley said Wednesday about UI. “They try to take (an opponent’s) strengths away, and you could see it early in conference season when they were sticking with teams for 20, 25 minutes.”

Recently, Riley said, the Vandals have been hitting their stride for more like a full game, something evident in victories over Sacramento State and Montana State last week. They also led Montana by three at halftime before losing in Missoula 73-70.

Riley credited Alex Pribble for the work he has done in his first year as Idaho’s head coach. The two were both on staff at Eastern from 2013 to 2015.

“He is one of the most thoughtful and organized coaches I’ve ever worked with,” Riley said. “He cares about the guys. He is methodical in his approach to basketball, which you can see in his teams. They do things the right way.”

But the Eagles are also on something of a streak, winning 14 of their past 16 games. They beat Idaho by 21 points on Jan. 13, and they followed up a loss at Montana State last week with victories at Montana and Portland State.

They benefited from an uptick in production from senior Jake Kyman, who scored 21 and 14 points, respectively, in his past two games, his best single-game scoring totals of the Big Sky season. He hit 7 of 13 3-point attempts in those games, increasing his team-leading total of 51 made 3s this season.

“He’s finding his times and finding his moments,” Riley said of the senior transfer. “That’s what’s cool about this part of the season. He’s in his last year. He’s finally comfortable.”

The Eagles have been without freshman guard Mason Williams for the past four games. While he’s been more of a depth player – his 10.2 minutes per game ranks ninth on the team – Eastern has missed him, Riley said.

Riley characterized Williams, who has played in 13 of 23 games this season, as “day-to-day.”

“He is another multidimensional scorer and ball handler,” Riley said. “It always helps to have another guy who can make decisions and handle the ball.”

Turnovers have plagued the Eagles more lately than at any point this season. They have 70 over their past four games and rank ninth in the Big Sky with 13.4 turnovers per game.

Some of that is a factor of how much the Eagles move the ball, Riley said. They also had 10 in the final 4 minutes Monday as Portland State pressed and pressured its way back from a 25-point deficit (the Eagles won 90-77).

Still, that’s not a turnover number with which Riley is content.

“We’re aware we’re not going to be the best team in the conference in turnovers, but we think being middle of the pack is realistic,” Riley said. “Being at the bottom is a bad look.”

The men’s basketball game Saturday at Reese Court in Cheney will follow the game between the Idaho and Eastern women’s basketball teams. The women’s game is set to tip off at 2 p.m. with the men’s game starting at approximately 4:30 .

Eagles women look to sweep Vandals

The EWU women (18-5, 8-2) are coming off two wins in three home games last week and face the Vandals (11-11, 4-6), who have lost six of their past eight. That stretch includes a 67-44 Eagles victory last month in Moscow.

Eastern last swept a regular-season series over Idaho in 2015-16, though the Vandals beat the Eagles in the Big Sky Tournament semifinals that year.

This year the Eagles and Vandals rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, among Big Sky teams in scoring defense. Eastern’s offense averages eight more points than Idaho.

It’s a big week in the conference, as Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado make their trip to Montana and Montana State. Those four sit among the top six in the Big Sky standings. EWU’s two conference losses this season came at NAU and at home against Montana State.