By Peter Sowards
Unable to execute offensively in the game’s closing minutes, the EWU women’s basketball team squandered a 12-point second half lead and lost to Northern Arizona 62-58 on Feb. 9 at Reese Court.
The Lumberjacks became the first team to sweep the Eagles this season—two of their six wins have come against EWU after the Eagles lost to NAU 83-68 on Jan. 10. Eastern fell to 13-10 on the season and 9-5 in the Big Sky Conference, while NAU improved to 6-16 and 5-8, respectively.
The Eagles sit at third place in the Big Sky, two games behind the University of Montana, 11-3, and one and a half behind Northern Colorado, 10-3.
EWU enjoyed a five-point halftime lead and stretched it out to as many as 12 with 14:36 to play but did not convert a field goal attempt in the final 5:21. NAU outscored EWU 13-to-3 in the final 3:55, forcing three turnovers.
“We turned it over and they scored—it was pretty simple,” EWU coach Wendy Schuller said. “We did an awful job in the last four minutes of the game taking care of the ball [or] executing perfectly offensively. We even had [open] shots and couldn’t knock shots down. To NAU’s credit, they fought and they hung with it and made some plays down the stretch.”
Sophomore point guard Kylie Huerta struggled in the second half, making just one of her eight field goal attempts for three points while committing three turnovers. She finished with 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting with four assists and four rebounds. Redshirt freshman Hayley Hodgins and junior Aubrey Ashenfelter led the team with 13 points each.
Schuller pointed to a lack of evenness in play as to why her team has struggled with the Lumberjacks this season. “We haven’t shot the ball and we haven’t executed well either time we’ve played them,” Schuller said. “We have to get more consistent play from our players.
“I just feel like we’re really inconsistent right now—even when we’re winning games we’re just inconsistent in terms of our play, and it’s got to get better.”
Ashenfelter, charged with the task of guarding Big Sky Conference scoring leader Amy Patton, led EWU with eight second-half points and held Patton to 7-of-16 shooting. “Aubrey had a hard, hard assignment because Amy Patton’s a phenomenal scorer and made some really, really tough shots over Aubrey,” Schuller said. “Overall, Aubrey did a great job. Somebody else has to be able to step up and help her out.
After just two free throw attempts in the first half, NAU was 14-of-21 from the free-throw line in the final 20 minutes. EWU finished 7-of-8 from the free-throw line, a disparity that did not sit with Schuller. “They attacked the rim and went hard at the basket,” she said. “I thought we were doing the same but evidently I’m wrong.”
Asked if there was anything positive she could take away from the loss, Schuller said, “I don’t feel anything positive right now.”
On Feb. 7, Huerta dominated on both ends of the floor and led the lady Eagles to 63-49 victory over Sacramento State at Reese Court. Her seven assists led the team and her 13 points—including 11 in the second half—were second only to redshirt sophomore Lexie Nelson. Huerta added five rebounds and a team-leading four steals.
“If there was a game ball to be given, Kylie [Huerta] gets the game ball tonight,” coach Wendy Schuller said after the Feb. 7 victory. “She was phenomenal for us, not just on the offensive end.”
After Sacramento State cut EWU’s lead to two with 10:58 remaining, Huerta took control, hitting a jumper to give the Eagles a five-point lead. Huerta found Nelson wide open in the corner for a 3-pointer on the next offensive possession to put the Eags up by eight, then immediately stole the inbounds pass and converted an easy layup to give EWU its first double-digit lead of the game. With 8:00 remaining she converted another layup, capping a 9-0 run that consisted of one assist and three field goals for Huerta, putting the Eagles up by 12. “The lane was just open for me tonight so I kept trying to get in there,” Huerta said.
Senior center Carrie Ojeda posted her sixth double-double of the season, scoring 12 points and grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds, two off her career high. “Carrie [Ojeda] was a beast on the glass for us,” Schuller said.
The Eagles travel to Southern Utah on Feb. 16 and will attempt to finish the season sweep of the Thunderbirds after defeating them 79-70 at Reese Court on Jan. 26.