Missoula, Mont. – The No. 4 Eastern Washington University women's basketball team closed the game on an 11-5 run but was unable to overcome an early deficit, falling to No. 1 Montana, 55-51, in a Big Sky Tournament semifinal Friday, Mar. 13, at Dahlberg Arena.
Eastern concludes its season with a 20-11 overall record while Montana improves to 23-8 and will face No. 3 Northern Colorado in the Big Sky Tournament title game tomorrow, Mar. 14, at 1 p.m. PT.
What It Means
The loss ends EWU's season, but the Eagles remain in the hunt for a potential bid to a postseason tournament due to one of its campaigns in the school's NCAA Division I history.
Eastern won 20 games for the first time under 14-year head coach Wendy Schuller, and for just the third time in program history. EWU has impressive wins over Wichita State and Florida on its resume, and also won 12 Big Sky games, finishing tied for third in the league standings.
For comparison, EWU's previous WNIT appearance in 2012-13 came on the heels of a 19-win season that saw the Eagles finish third in the Big Sky standings. Eastern also made the WNIT in 2009-10 after winning the conference's regular season title and finishing 19-12 overall.
The game proved a defensive struggle throughout as both teams found consistent baskets hard to come by. Montana had a little more success in the first half, holding Eastern to 26.9 percent shooting en route to a 29-18 lead at intermission.
The Eagles came out in the second half determined to get back into the game, slowly whittling the Lady Griz's lead down to five points, 45-40, at the 7:40 mark. Montana answered with another run to regain an 11-point edge, 53-42, with 4:33 left, before three-pointers from senior Lexie Nelson and junior Hayley Hodgins, followed by a pair of free throws from sophomore Jade Redmon, brought EWU to within four, 53-49, at the 2:01 mark.
After getting a defensive stop, Eastern missed a shot on its next possession, then turned it over the next time down the court, forcing senior Melissa Williams to foul Montana's McCalle Feller with 46 seconds left. She would make both free throws, and EWU was unable to take advantage of a missed free throw by UM's Kellie Rubel, coming up just short as the Lady Griz held on for the win.
Nelson led all scorers with 14 points, knocking down a pair of three-pointers while going a perfect 4-of-4 from the free throw line. She added three rebounds and three steals to her stat line.
Hayley Hodgins registered 10 points to go along with four rebounds while sophomore Marly Anderson notched a career-best 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 13 minutes off the bench.
Williams led EWU with seven rebounds and scored four points while Redmon tallied seven points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Eastern shot just 26.9 percent in the first half, but had much more success in the second stanza, connecting at a 50.0 percent clip over the final 20 minutes. Montana shot 38.9 percent for the game.
The Lady Griz outrebounded the Eagles, 37-28, and pulled down 15 boards to Eastern's eight. Montana outscored EWU, 18-9, in second-chance points.
* Eastern's season comes to an end in the semifinals of the Big Sky Tournament for the second time in three years and the third time in the last five seasons.
* EWU is now 1-9 all-time against Montana in the Big Sky Tournament and 8-10 all-time in conference tournament games in Missoula.
* The Eagles scored 18 first-half points, their lowest output in one half this season. EWU's previous season low of 20 came at SMU back on Nov. 22.
Tweet of the Game
Eastern will learn its postseason fate late Monday night, Mar. 16. The Eagles could potentially earn a bid to the WNIT or the WBI.