In a meaningless game that they made important, the Eastern Washington Eagles turned back Portland State 78-68 Saturday afternoon at Reese Court.
Eastern, coming off four straight losing seasons, clinched its first Big Sky Conference women’s basketball championship Friday night when Idaho State beat Sacramento State.
In their first game as champions, with an energetic crowd of 1,232 that included a large Vikings contingent cheering on Greater Spokane League grads Lexi Bishop (Shadle Park) and Kelli Valentine (Mead), the Eagles concluded the regular season by proving they deserved it and making a statement going into the conference tournament, which will be here beginning Thursday.
“We didn’t want to lose and have to wait a week to play,” EWU senior Nicole Scott said after contributing eight points to reach the 1,000-point milestone. “It means a lot to win on Senior Night.”
The Eagles (19-10, 12-4) built a 38-26 halftime lead, powered by junior Julie Piper, who had 12 points of her 20 points in the first half to go with 13 rebounds.
“This means the world to us,” Piper said after her fifth double-double. “The seniors have been through so much and they stuck it out, and it worked out. We wanted to go into the tournament on a high note and we hope we come out on a high note.”
They proved their mettle when the Vikings (15-14, 9-7), who made just 1 of 11 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes, opened the second half with a barrage of 3s to tie the game at 42.
“We responded,” Eagles coach Wendy Schuller said as her team cut down the nets. “They’re a good team. I told our team at halftime they weren’t going to shoot 9 percent.”
But even with eight 3s in the second half, Portland State never rattled the Eagles.
EWU reserve Chene Cooper drilled a 3-pointer just 15 seconds after Bishop, who finished with nine points, tied the game with a 3. Then Cooper, who finished with 19 points, made two free throws and fed Scott for a basket before another reserve, Breauna Russell, ended the 9-0 run.
The Eagles got the lead to 11 before the Vikings scored eight straight. The game stayed close, partially because Valentine scored 16 points, until the winners closed the game with six free throws. Vikings standout Claire Faucher had all 11 of her points in the second half and 11 assists.
“I liked our energy,” said Schuller, drenched after the players poured water over her. “Sometimes Senior Night can be real draining. Knowing we had secured the championship loosened us up. But we talked about going into the tournament playing well and this was a great lead-in.”
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