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After tough nonconference slates, Eastern Washington, Idaho begin Big Sky play

Washington’s David Crisp  and Eastern Washington’s Austin Fadal collide as they chase a loose ball in the second half  Nov. 27  in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Washington’s David Crisp and Eastern Washington’s Austin Fadal collide as they chase a loose ball in the second half Nov. 27 in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

The Eastern Washington Eagles weren’t healthy for the nonconference portion of their schedule, but even if they had been, their record (2-9) wouldn’t be much different.

Syracuse (8-4), Oregon (8-4), Washington (8-4), Stanford (6-5), upstart San Francisco (12-1) and Summit League power South Dakota State (10-5) provided tough tests for the guard-heavy Eagles, but undesirable results.

Playing without its primary inside threat, 6-foot-8 Mason Peatling, made that stretch even harder.

Peating returned last week in a win over NAIA Corban University – EWU’s other win was against Missouri-Kansas City – after sitting out the first 11 games of the season with a leg injury.

EWU guards Jacob Davison, Ty Gibson, Luka Vulikic and Steven Beo also missed time for various injuries as the team adjusted to life after Bogdan Bliznyuk, the Big Sky Conference’s all-time leading scorer who graduated last spring.

When EWU opens Big Sky Conference play on Saturday against Weber State (6-5) at Reese Court, it may finally have its entire team healthy.

“In all of our preseason games we’ve played against some tough schools, and now we find out if it pays off,” EWU head coach Shantay Legans said. “We use it to determine how to schedule in years to come.

“I think it’s great, and I believe our players are confident. Our coaching staff did a good job of keeping them together, their heads focused and their confidence up. I couldn’t be more proud of a team which lost nine games in the preseason, just because of the way they’ve practiced and prepared for Big Sky action.”

The Eagles, who were picked fourth in the conference preseason media and coaches polls, returned the bulk of their roster from last year’s 20-15 team that reached the Big Sky Tournament title game.

Last season, EWU lost eight of its first 11 games before hitting its stride in Big Sky play.

Forward Jesse Hunt has paced EWU, averaging 15.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

Weber State, picked second in the Big Sky preseason polls, returns high-scoring guard Jerrick Harding (21.9 points per game). The Wildcats beat BYU 113-103 on Dec. 1.

On Monday, EWU will face Idaho State at Reese Court. The Bengals (4-5), picked eight in in the preseason, are paced by guard Brandon Boyd (15.8 points per game).

Former Gonzaga Prep and North Idaho College guard Sam Dowd is a reserve guard at Idaho State, which has beaten Boise State and Santa Clara on the road.

Idaho (3-8) opens Big Sky play on Saturday at home against Idaho State before facing Weber State on Monday.

After being picked ninth in the preseason polls, Idaho dropped an exhibition game to NAIA power Lewis-Clark State and NCAA Division II Northern Nazarene. Its lone Division I win was against North Dakota.

Idaho has been led by former Clarkston standout Trevon Allen (13.6 points, 3.5 assists).

In Big Sky women’s openers, preseason favorite Idaho (3-6) travels to Idaho State (5-4) on Saturday to open conference play. EWU (1-8) is at Weber State (3-7).

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