Midway through the third quarter Saturday, with her team ahead by 10 points, Jamie Loera jogged backward as a pair of Idaho players ran toward her in transition, 2-on-1.
Loera waited for Ashlyn Wallace to accept a pass and put up a layup; Loera met her, swatted the ball out of bounds and let out a celebratory yell.
It was the sort of play that’s become typical for this Eastern Washington women’s basketball team, led by Loera, last season’s Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year.
It also stalled one of Idaho’s final pushes, as the shorthanded Eagles held off the Vandals 62-52 at Reese Court in Cheney, earning their 19th win of the season, two shy of the program’s single-season record.
“We just had to step up,” said redshirt sophomore Aaliyah Alexander, who led the Eagles with 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the floor. “We’ve been practicing with different lineups all week. So we just really pulled together and stepped up to the plate tonight.”
Senior Jacinta Buckley sat out for the fifth game in a row, and Milly Knowles – who started each of Eastern’s first 23 games – did not play, either. That elevated junior guard Alexis Pettis into the starting lineup for the first time this season, the second start of her career.
Pettis’ only basket was the Eagles’ first of the game, a 3-pointer. But the other Eagles starters picked up the scoring – Jaleesa Lawrence scored 13, Loera 11 and Jaydia Martin nine – and Eastern (19-5, 9-2 Big Sky) played the same sort of lockdown defense it has all year, holding the Vandals (11-12, 4-7) to 36.4% shooting and a 4-of-18 afternoon from 3-point range.
“I thought that we disrupted Idaho’s offense with our defense,” EWU head coach Joddie Gleason said, “and (with) our ability to switch and talk and communicate, (we) kept them from running what they wanted to run.”
Sarah Schmitt led Idaho with 16 points. Asha Phillips added 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Idaho has lost seven of its past nine games, and it was swept by Eastern in the regular season for the first time in eight years.
The Eagles improved to 14-0 when holding an opponent to fewer than 60 points. Without Buckley and Knowles – Gleason said whether Knowles would play Saturday was a game-time decision – the Eagles relied more heavily on University High School graduate Ellie Boni, who played a season-high 21 minutes, and Bella Hays, Breeje Schuler and Ella Gallatin. Those four combined for 11 points off the bench.
“We just told them how huge they were in this win,” Gleason said. “… They’ve put in a lot of time. I was really happy that they got rewarded with game play, because a lot of the time they don’t. They were huge getting us those 11 bench points.”
After going 3-1 on the homestand, the Eagles trail first-place Northern Arizona by one game in the Big Sky standings. Eastern will play at Idaho State on Thursday and at Weber State on Saturday.