Cheney, Wash. – Behind an impressive effort on the defensive end and patience on the offensive end, the Eastern Washington women's basketball team held off visiting Sacramento State, 78-65, in a Big Sky counter Saturday, Jan. 18, at Reese Court.
Eastern (8-8, 4-3 Big Sky) held Sacramento State (11-4, 3-3 BSC) to a season-low 65 points, nearly 30 less than its average of 93.1 that ranked third nationally entering the week. The Hornets shot just 32.8 percent from the field, their second-lowest percentage of the year. EWU's perimeter defense also bothered CSUS as the visitors connected at a 20.7-percent clip from three-point range, their lowest of the season.
The Eagles are also the first team to win the turnover battle against Sacramento State this season, forcing 21 turnovers while turning the ball over 19 times.
"Our team worked really hard defensively," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "We tried to keep our players as fresh as we could. It was important that we had some legs down the stretch."
Junior Lexie Nelson and senior Laura Hughes each scored 19 points for the Eagles, who shot a blistering 54.8 percent in the second half after connecting at a 39.4-percent clip in the opening stanza.
Nelson knocked down three triples and made all six of her foul shots, extending her streak to 20 consecutive made free throws.
Hughes did all of her damage in just 16 minutes, going 8-of-12 from the field while pulling down a team-high eight rebounds.
Sophomore Hayley Hodgins added 14 points to go along with six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Junior Melissa Williams chipped in 10 points and four rebounds.
Senior Aubrey Ashenfelter finished with six points, five rebounds, five assists and a game-high four steals while freshman Jade Redmon tallied six points and six rebounds to go along with three assists and two blocks.
EWU came into the game with a plan to control possession and limit Sacramento State's opportunities. Coincidentally, the Eagles were passive early, turning down open looks early in the shot clock. A lay-up from Ashenfelter gave Eastern a 6-2 lead at the 16:34 mark, but a 13-4 run over the next seven minutes saw the Hornets go up five, 15-10. During the visitors' run, the Eagles shot just 2-of-8 from the field and turned the ball over five times.
Williams stopped Sacramento State's run with a jumper off a pass from Hodgins, but the Hornets kept coming, taking their largest lead of the game, 20-14, on a layup from Alle Moreno with 7:42 on the clock. Eastern would score eight of the next 10 points to tie the score at 22-22 with 3:58 left, but five straight free throws put CSUS back up five, 27-22, less than 30 seconds later.
A layup from Redmon knotted the score at 27-27, but Sacramento State converted one free throw on its next possession before a Shanti Smith jumper put the Hornets up three, 30-27, at the 1:19 mark. Hughes knocked down a pair of free throws on Eastern's next possession as CSUS took a one-point lead into the locker room.
The second half was a different story as the Eagles reverted back to their strengths, using a 10-0 run over the opening 2:30 to take a six-point lead, 39-33, that they would never relinquish. A three-pointer from Ashlyn Crenshaw brought the Hornets to within one, 39-38, but Eastern responded with another run, scoring 11 of the next 12 points to take an 11-point advantage, 50-39, with 12:00 on the clock.
A jumper from Williams gave EWU a 14-point cushion, 57-43, with 7:51 remaining, but the visitors had one more run in them, cutting the Eagles' lead to five, 59-54, over the next three minute. The two teams traded buckets over the next two minutes as a layup from Hughes gave Eastern a nine-point lead, 68-59, at the 2:19 mark.
Sacramento State converted inside on its next trip down before Smith made a pair of free throws that brought the Hornets back to within five, 68-63, with 1:45 left. Eastern would make its next eight free throws to close out the game as CSUS had turnovers on four straight possessions down the stretch. A late bucket from Fantasia Hilliard resulted in the final 13-point margin.
"The biggest adjustment we made at halftime was to not be as passive," Schuller said. "I thought we were effective with our game plan, but I also thought we turned down some opportunities to do what we do well. I didn't want Sacramento State to totally make us deviate from who we are. We did a better job of understanding when we should take shots and when we should pull it out."
Eastern outrebounded the Hornets, 41-37, and got 18 second-chance points to their 15. EWU scored 43 of its points in the paint compared to just 24 for Sacramento State.
Smith led CSUS with 17 points while Margaret Huntington added 11 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
Eastern returns to action next Saturday, Jan. 25, when it opens a three-game road swing at Southern Utah. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. PST.