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Eastern Washington University Basketball

Adding to history: Eastern Washington women can build on program-best 23 wins this week

By Greg Lee The Spokesman-Review

The Eastern Washington women’s basketball team took care of business last week.

Now the Eagles take their one-game lead atop the Big Sky Conference on a two-game road trip to Montana.

Montana State handed EWU a 62-61 loss in Cheney on Feb. 1, so the Eagles will be out to avenge the loss.

EWU (23-5 overall, 13-2 Big Sky) visits Montana (19-7, 11-4) on Thursday and Montana State (15-13, 9-6) on Saturday.

The Eagles play a third game in five days and conclude regular-season play Monday when Sacramento State (5-22, 4-12) visits.

The 23 wins by the Eagles represent an all-time best.

EWU coach Joddie Gleason couldn’t have asked her team to play better in its sweep of Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado last week. The wins give the Eagles a one-game lead over NAU going into the final week.

“The team came out with urgency on defense and unbelievable intensity at the end,” Gleason said of the 67-42 win over NAU after losing 89-81 in overtime earlier in Flagstaff, Arizona. “We’re super proud of the way they responded.”

Gleason said the Eagles will need to continue their solid play this week.

“The next three games are definitely going to be a challenge,” she said. “And Sac State is playing really well right now.”

Gleason hopes her team wants to even the score with Montana State.

“When you get beat the first time, you have a little bit of the revenge factor or the prove yourself factor in the second game,” Gleason said. “Montana is the No. 1 team in the nation in 3-point field goals made. So we’re going to have to protect the 3-point line, crank up the defense and be extremely active.”

Montana State presents a different challenge.

“Montana State defends extremely well,” Gleason said. “They take you out of your offense. They’re long and athletic and jump into passing lanes.”

Home finale

Gonzaga (28-2, 15-0), which stayed at No. 16 in the Associated Press rankings on Monday, concludes the regular season Wednesday when Portland (17-11, 9-5) visits.

It will be Senior Night as the Zags say farewell to the four graduates who returned this season – the Truong twins, Kaylynne and Kayleigh, Eliza Hollingsworth and Brynna Maxwell – along with senior forward Destiny Burton.

Senior forward Yvonne Ejim has elected to return for her COVID season next year.

The game starts later than normal, 8 p.m., to accommodate a national broadcast. The game will be on ESPNU.

Gonzaga is on a 22-game winning streak dating to Thanksgiving when it lost to Louisville in a tournament in Katy, Texas.

The Zags’ 28 wins are the most in the country, and they have a 33-game home winning streak.

Santa Clara has the inside nod for second place and the second double bye in the West Coast Conference Tournament. Portland is a game back.

Thanks to the top seed and double bye it has earned, Gonzaga will be off until March 11 when it plays in the conference tournament semifinals in Las Vegas. The title game is March 12.

Ejim was selected among 40 standout players for the 2023-24 Ann Meyers Drysdale Award on Tuesday.

The winner will be announced at the NCAA Final Four April 7-8 in Cleveland.

Ejim is fourth in the country in field goals with 242 and her 562 points rank 16th in the nation. She is shooting 62.9% from the field, which ranks seventh in the nation.

Third surgery

Gonzaga redshirt sophomore guard Bree Salenbien underwent ACL surgery Monday – her third ACL surgery and second as a Zag.

Salenbien, who tweaked a knee prior to the season and didn’t return until late December, had been coming off the bench. Her latest injury occurred in practice when she collided with another player.

She averaged 3.8 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12 games.

Salenbien said she’s not sure if she’ll return to the team after rehabilitation.

“I am still processing what this means for me and my basketball career,” she said in a news release last week. “But for now I am going to focus on my academics and my health and getting back to 100%. I thank God for all of the blessings and opportunities this sport has given me. I would give anything to be able to finish the rest of the season on the court, but I am leaning on my faith for guidance and peace during this time.”

She thanked Zags fans for their support and prayers.

“I love this team and my teammates, and I will continue to cheer them on as they make an incredible run this season,” Salenbien said.

Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier and her team are heartbroken for Salenbien.

“I just feel for her as a person a lot,” Fortier said. “I tore one ACL and that was a lot for me. I remember that being a pretty dark time in my life.

“She did it in high school and came back. She did it with us her freshman year and now to have it happen again … I feel for her. She’s such an important part of what we do on the court and she has an important place in our locker room, too.”

Tough road trip

Washington State (17-12, 6-10), which has watched its hopes of a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament fade since the season-ending injury to senior standout guard Charlisse Leger-Walker, has the unenviable task of trying to secure an at-large berth with road games at ranked Utah and Colorado.

The Cougars probably need a sweep to have a chance at an at-large berth. The guaranteed way to earn a berth is to win the Pac-12 Conference Tournament as they did last year. But that’s an even mightier challenge now.

WSU is at No. 18 Utah (20-8, 10-6) on Thursday and at No. 13 Colorado (20-7, 10-6) on Saturday.

Cougars coach Kamie Ethridge expects her team to play well this week.

“I’m hopeful we still have a ceiling above us and we haven’t reached our potential,” Ethridge said

The first time WSU played Utah and Colorado were the first games the Cougars played without Leger-Walker.

“I think we match up OK with these teams,” Ethridge said. “There are probably a lot of things not working in our favor. … We’ve got to trust who we are and keep expecting and rising to the occasion.

“The first weekend without Charlisse we played at a high level but didn’t have good fourth quarters.”