Cheney, Wash. – A trip to the Lone Star State and tilts against six teams that appeared in last year's NCAA Championship highlight the Eastern Washington University women's basketball 2015-16 schedule, as announced by head coach Wendy Schuller on Wednesday, Aug. 18.
EWU's 2015-16 slate boasts nine contests against programs that won at least 20 games a season ago, and four meetings versus teams that claimed their respective conference's regular season title last year.
Eastern can count itself among those winning programs, having had one of the best seasons in school history this past year. The Eagles won 21 games in 2014-15, the most since the 1983-84 season, and made their third appearance in the WNIT, defeating Washington State in the first round to win their first-ever postseason game as an NCAA Division I member.
Schuller, who is entering her 15th season on the sideline in Cheney, has never been one to shy away from scheduling tough opponents, using a challenging nonconference schedule to prepare the Eagles for the rigors of Big Sky Conference play.
"I've always said that, in the Big Sky, we see not only high-quality opponents but a number of different styles of play," said Schuller. "When we do our nonconference scheduling, we want it to challenge us and put us up against opponents who play a variety of styles. Having that variety helps us prepare for Big Sky play."
Eastern will open its season at home, hosting Eastern Oregon on Friday, Nov. 13, before taking on Air Force on Sunday, Nov. 15.
EWU's first road game of the year takes place on Thursday, Nov. 19, in Spokane at local foe Gonzaga. The Eagles will be looking for redemption following last season's buzzer-beating defeat to the Bulldogs at Reese Court. GU won its 11th consecutive West Coast Conference title last year and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, falling to Tennessee.
Two-time defending Big West Tournament champion Cal State Northridge visits Reese Court on Sunday, Nov. 22, before Eastern journeys to Austin, Texas, for the Lone Star Showcase during the week of Thanksgiving. EWU will play three games in three days from Nov. 26-28, taking on Northwestern, East Carolina and Creighton in that span. Northwestern won 23 games last year and received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament while East Carolina and Creighton each earned spots in the WNIT.
"Austin is a really neat city and will be a nice place to spend Thanksgiving," Schuller said. "It's an opportunity for us to play national opponents, and seeing different styles of play will be good for us. It's a tough tournament, playing three games in three days, but it will be a good lesson for us in terms of preparation."
December opens with a home contest against Utah Valley on Thursday, Dec. 3, followed by road games at Cal State Fullerton on Sunday, Dec. 13, and Wichita State on Tuesday, Dec. 15. Wichita State finished the 2014-15 season with a 29-5 record and both the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles and will be eyeing another shot at the Eagles, who cruised past the Shockers, 86-58, a year ago in Cheney.
EWU wraps up nonconference play with home games versus Abilene Christian on Friday, Dec. 18, and Boise State on Monday, Dec. 21. Winners of 22 games last season, Boise State claimed the Mountain West Tournament title before losing to Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Eastern begins Big Sky play at home against Northern Colorado and North Dakota as the calendar shifts to 2016. After its two initial home league contests, five of the Eagles' next seven games are on the road, wrapping up with a tilt at Sacramento State, the team who bounced EWU from the WNIT this past season, on Saturday, Jan. 30.
Said Schuller: "We'll be tested early, that's for sure. The positive of playing road games early on in league play is that your team has that early focus and excitement of starting a new conference season. With us playing 18 league games, as you get deeper into the season, that focus is harder to maintain."
Defending Big Sky regular season and tournament champion Montana visits Reese Court on Saturday, Jan. 23, for the season's lone meeting between the two teams.
The month of February sees EWU at home for all but one weekend and includes home games against Portland State (Saturday, Feb. 20) and regional rival Idaho (Saturday, Feb. 27).
Eastern ends its regular season on the road at Idaho State and Weber State on Wednesday, Mar. 2, and Friday, Mar. 4, respectively.
For the first time in its history, the Big Sky Tournament will be played at a neutral site, with Reno, Nev., winning the bid to host. The tournament will be held over six days with the first round beginning Monday, Mar. 7.
All 12 of the league's members will receive a spot in the tournament, with the top four teams in the final standings receiving byes into the quarterfinal round.
"It's exciting to have the conference tournament at a predetermined site," said Schuller. "I'm anxious to see what Reno has in store for us. I think you'll see those teams at the bottom of the standings continue to play hard at the end of the season because everyone will want to be playing good basketball going into the tournament. You see low seeds get hot and win conference tournaments year in and year out around the country, so it will be definitely be exciting."