By Peter Sowards
Redshirt freshman Hayley Hodgins had the hot hand for the Eagles as they trounced Portland State 83-51 at Reese Court on Feb. 21.
Hodgins scored a career-high 24 points, and the Eagles held Portland State to just 29.5 percent shooting en route to Eastern’s largest victory of the season. The Eagles, 15-10 overall, clinched a berth in the Big Sky Conference tournament and remain in third place in the league with an 11-5 record. Northern Colorado and the University of Montana are each two games clear of EWU with similar 13-3 conference résumés, and whichever team finishes with the top overall seed will host the conference tournament.
After scoring a previous career-best 22 points in a 68-56 victory over Portland State on Jan. 21, Hodgins was halfway to 40 by halftime and converted on her first six field-goal attempts. She finished 7-of-8 from the field, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. Hodgins also contributed with four assists and one rebound, playing limited minutes in the second half because of the lopsided score.
The Eagles jumped out to a 46-21 halftime lead, shooting 60 percent from the floor in the process. The 46 first-half points is the most scored by EWU in any first half this season. “We were just moving the ball really well,” Hodgins said. “I had the hot hand and they were just giving it to me. We were taking a lot of what came to us. Our first five possessions, we really took advantage and I think that got us going.”
Head Coach Wendy Schuller said that Hodgins got into a rhythm by making baskets closer to the rim. “The thing that she did best is she got herself going with layups,” Schuller said. “She got a couple early inside buckets, got her confidence going and then took some wide open good shots from three and knocked those down. I think that kind of got her feeling good.”
“As a shooter, when you make your first shot, it’s always a good sign,” Hodgins said. “You always want to get into the flow.”
Emphasizing strong play in transition both offensively and defensively, the Eagles were able to take advantage of slipshod play from the Vikings—EWU outscored Portland State in points off turnovers by a 25-0 margin. “We really wanted to push the ball in transition as much as we could,” Schuller said. “That was something we talked about. We thought coming into the game that transition basketball was going to be key. We needed to be able to run and we needed to play great transition defense.”
Charged with the task of guarding multiple scoring threats, junior Aubrey Ashenfelter earned Schuller’s admiration. Vikings guard Courtney VanBrocklin, second in the conference with 15.2 points scored per game, was held to just seven points on 2-of-9 shooting. “You think about the fact that she guarded VanBrocklin, who’s their point guard and has a perimeter game … and then we ask her to guard a post player—she can handle all of it and she does it all,” Schuller said. “That’s pretty special when you have a defender and sometimes those players are kind of unnoticed.
“She didn’t put up huge stats, but she made a huge difference for us on the floor.”
The Eagles’ lead grew to as many as 41 points in the second half before sloppy play allowed the Vikings to go on a 10-0 run. “We didn’t play as focused late in the game—probably the last eight to 10 minutes,” Schuller said. “I didn’t think we were as focused as we were the first 30, but I thought we did continue to play hard.”
Redshirt sophomore guard Lexie Nelson scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting and was an efficient 3-of-6 from downtown. Junior Laura Hughes continued her strong play off the bench, scoring 12 points in just 17 minutes.
With the win, EWU secured the “Dam Cup,” a five-sport rivalry between Eastern and Portland State instituted in 2010. The friendly competition includes football, women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. “We just wanted to hold up our end of the deal,” Schuller said. “We knew that it was on our shoulder and so I’m glad we did.”
EWU next faces Northern Colorado on the road on Feb. 28 before traveling to North Dakota on March 2 in the Eagles’ final two road games in the regular season. The Eagles will be looking for the season sweep on both teams.