With five different Eagles scoring in double figures, and a scintillating 15-0 run in the second half, the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team got past the Bobcats of Montana State, 68-53, on Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Big Sky Conference women’s basketball tournament in Missoula, Mont.
No. 3-seed Eastern advances to the semifinals to take on No.2-seed Northern Colorado on Friday (March 15) at 10 a.m. PDT/11 MDT at Dahlberg Arena.
It was not a pretty start for either team on Wednesday afternoon in Missoula, as the Eags and Bobcats combined for 21 turnovers in the first period, and made just 21-of-59 shots between them. But the second half was a different story.
Eastern committed just four turnovers total in the second period, and shot 57 percent from the field, including 4-of-9 from beyond the arc. EWU forced nine Bobcat turnovers, which they converted into 11 points on the other end, and being out-rebounded in the first 20 minutes, 22-17, EWU and MSU were even on the boards in the second.
“I thought defense really keyed our offensive effort in the second half,” said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. “I thought we did a good job putting pressure on them and getting our hands on some balls. That maybe got them a little frustrated, and then we were able to get into the open floor and run.”
Coming out of the break, Montana State hit its first two baskets to take a 29-26 lead, but at that point, Eastern Washington caught fire. Over the next five minutes, the Eagles made six-consecutive baskets, including two from 3-point range by Eastern’s Big Sky Freshman of the Year, Hayley Hodgins.
The Eagles scored 15 unanswered points before MSU’s Peyton Ferris put a momentary stop to the bleeding with a mid-range jumper at the 12:29-mark of the second half. But in what seemed like the blink of an eye, EWU had turned that three-point deficit into a 16-point lead at 49-33.
During the run, EWU had three different players score at least four points, and that was thanks in large part sophomore point guard Kylie Huerta, who contributed four assists and two steals during the surge.
“Kylie did a great job of making sure we were organized,” said All-Big Sky first-team guard Lexie Nelson, who finished with a game-high 18 points, including three back-to-back-to-back to spark the Eagle run. “She made sure we all stayed on the same page, and we just kept running and pushing the ball.”
The Bobcats managed to cut the lead to nine (49-40) with just over nine minutes to play, but that was the closest they’d come, as EWU’s junior center Laura Hughes converted three-straight layups to put Eastern back up by 17.
Hughes was one of five Eagles to eclipse double-digits, as she finished with 13 on a perfect 6-of-6 effort from the floor. Unfortunately though, Hughes made a premature exit after taking a hard fall on the defensive end.
Nelson led the team with 18 points, while Huerta and junior guard Aubrey Ashenfelter both finished with 12. Huerta was one assist shy of her first-career double-double, as she finished with nine times, as well as six steals.
Hodgins finished with 11 points, including 3-of-5 from downtown, which was a big part of the momentum swing in the second half.
“It was good to see Hayley knock down that three out of the corner, which kind of got us going,” said Schuller. “We had five players in double figures. We talk about this all the time - when we share the basketball, we are a good team. In the first half, I thought we spent a lot of time going one-on-one. It was pass, then the next one dribble, then pass, then dribble. In the second half, I thought we shared the ball a lot better. We got into the open floor and kind of let Kylie do her work, and then we knocked down some shots.”
Eastern finished the game shooting 48 percent from the field, while holding MSU to 36.7. EWU had 13 assists and 15 turnovers, compared to just nine assists for the Bobcats and 19 miscues. Eastern is now 17-2 in the 2012-13 campaign when posting an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.8 or better.
With the men’s tournament also taking place in Missoula, Eastern will get a full day to decompress and prepare before facing No. 2 Northern Colorado on Friday. The Bears advanced to the semis after a 67-59 win over Southern Utah. Eastern and UNC split during the regular-season, with each team winning on its home floor. But in Cheney, EWU dominated the Bears, 63-38, and in Greeley, it took a buzzer-beating shot by All-Big Sky first-teamer D’shara Strange to give UNC a slimmest 67-66 victory.