BOISE – An underwhelming season came to a somewhat suspenseful end for Eastern Washington.
Portland State held a double-digit lead most of Monday’s first-round Big Sky Conference tournament opener against EWU, eliminating the Eagles in a 83-70 decision at CenturyLink Arena.
But 10th-seeded EWU (4-26), which trailed by as many 21 points, found a way to make it interesting.
Behind the 3-point shooting of Kennedy Dickie (20 points), Grace Kirscher (17 points and Jenna Dick (12 points) and the inside play of Bella Cravens (14 points), EWU manufactured a run to cut the Vikings’ lead to 66-61 in the fourth quarter.
It wouldn’t get any closer.
Portland State’s Desirae Hansen (27 points) answered with a pair of 3-pointers, and EWU, picked sixth in the preseason Big Sky media poll, finished the season with the most losses of any Eagles team in head coach Wendy Schuller’s 19 years in Cheney.
Portland State (16-15) advanced to face No. 2 seed Idaho (20-9) in Tuesday’s quarterfinal.
The Eagles will miss a postseason tournament – NCAA, WNIT, or WBI – for the third straight season. They haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 1987.
“I gotta do a better job, and that’s the bottom lime,” said Schuller, whose team shot 11 for 29 from 3-point range. “These guys show up and fight for us for every single day, and they work hard. I have to put us in a better position to win more basketball games.”
Cravens, the Big Sky’s leading rebounder (8.6 per game), said EWU flourished when it stuck to the script in the second half.
“We did well when we got it inside to free up outside shooters,” said Cravens. “And we stuck to that game plan.”
Portland State, which beat EWU in last year’s Big Sky Tournament title game, was hot early and took a 40-19 second-quarter lead when Belle Frazier hit her fourth 3-pointer of the half.
The Vikings connected on 11 of 24 3-point tries and dominated EWU on the glass with a 45-30 rebounding margin.
EWU and Portland State split during the regular season, the previous matchup resulting in a 70-57 Eagles win in Cheney.
Portland State eliminated EWU from the tournament for the third straight year.
“We did a better job today of taking away some of (EWU’s) 3-point looks (than we did in the loss at Cheney),” Portland State head coach Lynn Kennedy said.
Key losses in EWU’s personnel, a youthful starting lineup (three sophomores, two freshmen) and lack of depth made winning hard for EWU.
After a 2019 Big Sky Tournament run as the sixth-seeded Cinderella, EWU graduated one of the program’s all-time best in Violet Kapri Morrow.
The Eagles received bad news in the offseason when they learned that Uriah Howard, the 2019 Big Sky Reserve of the Year, wouldn’t return to the program due to the severity of a knee injury.
Andie Easley, a 5-foot-11 guard who saw valuable minutes in certain games last season, transferred to Cal State-Bakersfield where she has cracked the starting lineup.
The early-season departure of two-year starting guard Brittany Klaman didn’t help the Eagles, either.
“We definitely had some depth issues, we had four players in the 15 (of the the Big Sky) in scoring,” said Schuller, who led EWU to four postseason tournaments between 2010 and 2017. “Especially when you’re young.”
Vandals set for quarterfinals
Second-seeded Idaho is in a position to avenge its 2019 Big Sky Tournament semifinal loss to eventual champion Portland State.
Idaho (20-9, 15-5), an annual Big Sky contender, will face the No. 7 seed Vikings (16-15) in Tuesday’s quarterfinals at CenturyLink Arena in Boise.
The Vandals swept Portland State during the regular, handling the Vikings 74-53 in Portland and 65-52 in Moscow.
Idaho was a Big Sky champion in 2019 and was widely expected to win the tournament behind record-breaking guards Mikayla Ferenz and Taylor Pierce, a 3-point-shooting duo nicknamed the “The Splash Sisters.”
But the Vikings shocked Idaho in the tournament 75-59, ultimately sending the Vandals to the WNIT.
Guard Kylie Jimenez. who had a game-high 22 points and nine assists in the upset, returns for the Vikings.
Idaho trio, EWU’s Cravens honored by conference
Three Idaho women’s basketball players earned All-Big Sky Conference distinction Monday, including first-team sophomore guard Gina Marxen (13.8 ppg, 4 apg).
Freshman standout Beyonce Bea (12.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and senior guard Lizzie Klinker (12.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg) were named to the third-team.
EWU sophomore forward Bella Cravens was named honorable mention. She averaged 10.2 points. 8.6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 1.2 assists and one steal.
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