By Peter Sowards
Battling back from a nine-point second-half deficit that saw a season-high 47 foul calls, the EWU Eagles women’s basketball team defeated Southern Utah 78-70 on Feb. 16 in a tightly contested road victory.
With the win, coach Wendy Schuller’s squad eclipsed 10 conference wins for the second consecutive year. The Eagles remain in third place in the Big Sky, and are now 10-5 in conference play and 14-10 overall. “At this point in the season, you’re either moving up or down, and we want to be one of those teams climbing the ladder, not starting a descent,” Schuller said. “The team did a great job coming together, and they played hard when they had to.”
Redshirt sophomore Lexie Nelson led all scorers with 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting, including 2-of-4 from the 3-point line and 6-of-8 at the free-throw line. Junior Laura Hughes played a key role off the bench, grabbing five offensive rebounds—eight total—and tying a career high with 20 points in just 18 minutes.
“Lexie is one of our primary scorers, and we thought she hadn’t been getting enough shots these last couple weeks,” Schuller said. “She hunted shots a little bit better tonight, and we found ways as a team to get her involved. When she’s active, she not only gets shot attempts, but she gets to the line, and that’s important for us. She got there eight times today, which shows her being aggressive.”
Sophomore Kylie Huerta set a career best with seven steals despite a quiet night offensively, scoring just four points on 1-of-6 shooting.
Trailing 52-43 with 15:17 remaining, the Eagles used a 20-5 run in the next 6:32 to take a six-point lead, a lead they never relinquished. Implementing a zone defense, the Eagles found a spark and carried it as far as it would take them. “At about the 15-minute mark, things still were not looking good,” Schuller said. “We had practiced a little bit of zone earlier in the week, knowing we might need to go with that against this team, so we decided to do it. I really think it gave us some life, and also got [SUU] out of rhythm offensively. It took away some of the things that were hurting us. We became a little more active, we starting moving better and communicating more.
“We finally got some stops and found transition baskets.”
EWU’s stingy defense held SUU’s leading scorer, Hailey Mandelko, to just 2-of-16 shooting. Mandelko scored eight points, while Andrea Jones led the Thunderbirds with 20 points in 23 minutes off the bench.
The Eagles return to Reese Court to take on Portland State on Feb. 21 at 6:05 p.m. EWU will look to sweep the season series with the Vikings after a 68-56 victory over PSU on Jan. 21, a game in which redshirt freshman Hayley Hodgins scored a career-high 22 points.