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Eastern Washington University Basketball

Eastern Washington women take over first place in Big Sky with 67-42 win over Northern Arizona

Eastern Washington guard Aaliyah Alexander goes up for a shot against the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks on Thursday at Reese Court in Cheney.  (Courtesy of EWU Athletics)
By Dan Thompson The Spokesman-Review

Four weeks after losing on the road to Northern Arizona, that defeat was still on Jamie Loera’s mind as Eastern Washington prepared for its rematch on Thursday in Cheney.

“You don’t forget the losses, for sure, but we were ready to move on,” the EWU senior said. “That game didn’t define us.”

This game, however, might have done just that.

Eastern set a program record by earning its 22nd victory of the season, dominating Northern Arizona 67-42 in a battle for first place in the Big Sky women’s basketball standings.

“That’s something you’ll always be able to cherish,” EWU coach Joddie Gleason said of setting the program record for victories in a season. “We’re not done, though.”

With four games to go, the Eagles (22-5, 12-2) have a one-game lead over the Lumberjacks (19-8, 11-3), who won the first matchup between the teams 89-81 earlier this season in Flagstaff.

The Eagles won with smothering defense, holding the Lumberjacks to season lows in points, field-goal shooting (20.9%) and assists (four).

NAU sophomore Sophie Glancey, a three-time Big Sky Player of the Week who had scored in double figures in nine of her past 10 games, scored a season-low three points and failed to make a shot from the field (0 for 7) for the first time this year.

The Lumberjacks didn’t score until 6 minutes into the game, and their 18 points in the first half were their fewest of the season. Nyah Moran led NAU with 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting from the field.

“It’s something we’re focusing on right now: throwing the first punch,” Loera said. “Our defensive stops in the first couple of minutes showed how ready we were for this game.”

Loera led the Eagles in points (15), assists (five) and steals (two). She was one of five Eagles with at least five rebounds (Loera had eight), helping the Eagles win the rebounding margin 52-42.

EWU junior Jaydia Martin grabbed a season-high 10 rebounds and finished one point shy of a double-double.

Ahead by eight at halftime, the Eagles pushed their lead to double digits in the third quarter, during which they made 7 of 13 shots from the floor and 3 of 4 3-pointers. The final shot of the quarter came from Martin, who took a cross-court pass from Loera and drained a 3 from the wing a few seconds before time expired.

That gave Eastern a 52-34 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Lumberjacks made just 3 of 20 shots from the floor over the final 10 minutes.

Gleason credited senior center Milly Knowles (four points, seven rebounds) for spearheading Eastern’s defensive effort.

“Milly is just really active,” Gleason said. “She does a nice job of meeting the post early. One of our keys was keeping them out of the lower box. If you’re closer to the basket, it’s easier to score. It seems easy, but it’s not.”

Eastern had a 30-14 scoring edge in the paint and made 15 of 16 free throws.

The Eagles are home again Saturday against Northern Colorado (13-12, 8-6) before playing at Montana (18-7, 10-4) and Montana State (14-13, 8-6) next week. They close out the regular season at home against Sacramento State on March 4.

“We’re going to celebrate today. We’re excited about this win and evening out the record with NAU,” Gleason said. “But we know we have four more really tough games.”