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Eastern Washington University Basketball

Eastern Washington women roll Sac State 72-59, capture outright Big Sky regular-season title

The EWU women’s basketball team celebrates winning the Big Sky regular-season title on Monday in Cheney.  (Courtesy of EWU Athletics)
By Dan Thompson The Spokesman-Review

The postgame celebration Monday at Reese Court wasn’t predicated on the Eastern Washington women’s basketball team winning its final game of the regular season.

Regardless of what happened against Sacramento State, the net was coming down, one strand at a time.

But in a season as successful as this one, why stop winning now?

On senior night, the Eagles beat the Hornets 72-59 for their 10th consecutive victory – their second streak of that many wins this year – and Eastern secured an outright Big Sky regular -season championship for the first time since 2010.

“We made sure we had a lot of urgency coming into this game,” said Jamie Loera, one of four seniors honored before the game. “We couldn’t let up on what we’ve been doing. It’s much sweeter cutting down the nets after a win.”

The top-seeded Eagles (26-5, 16-2 Big Sky) will play either ninth-seeded Weber State (7-24, 4-14) or 10th-seeded Portland State (8-22, 3-15) on Sunday in the second round of the Big Sky Tournament in Boise. Northern Arizona (23-8, 15-3), which also won Monday and would have shared the title had the Eagles lost, will be the No. 2 seed.

“We said (before the game) we don’t like sharing,” senior Milly Knowles said. “I think we earned it. We deserve to be the only one.”

Once the Eagles scored more than two minutes into the game, they led the entire way and by as many as 23 points over the Hornets, the lowest-scoring team in the Big Sky this season.

Eastern shot 44.4% from the field, their best shooting night in five games. Jaleesa Lawrence, Aaliyah Alexander and Loera each had 14 points, while senior Jacinta Buckley – playing in her third game back from injury – started and scored 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting. She also had four rebounds.

“We had a lot of growing to do when (Buckley) was first out, and we saw that against NAU and Montana State,” Loera said, referring to Eastern’s only two losses in conference play. “But we adjusted after those losses. We grew as a team. We got better. People stepped up. People started playing more minutes, and she came back and we are much stronger.”

Loera had eight assists and has 164 on the season, the seventh-best single-season total in program history. She also had five steals, her fifth game this year with at least that many, and her 72 this season are also the seventh-most ever by an Eastern player.

Knowles extended her program record by playing in her 140th game at Eastern, scoring four points and grabbing five rebounds.

Senior Gabrielle Jung – who, like Knowles, came to Cheney before Joddie Gleason took over as head coach three seasons ago – played in her 21st game of the season (75th in her career) and scored two points off the bench.

“We love playing for each other. We love hyping each other up. We show up for each other every day,” said Loera, who started her college career at Arizona State. “The chemistry of this team is very special. You’re not going to get that everywhere, and it’s really cool that we have it.”

The Eagles have already set a record for program victories. Now they will turn their full focus to winning the league tournament title, something the program hasn’t done since 1987, and securing an automatic NCAA Tournament berth.

“You want to be playing your best going into the tournament,” Gleason said. “I think it was huge to get the win and then get to cut down the nets.”