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March Madness ahead for Eagles

Women win Big Sky Tournament

BOISE, Idaho — For the first time since 1987, Eastern Washington women’s basketball is going to the NCAA Tournament. Eastern defeated Northern Arizona, 73-64, in the Big Sky Tournament finals to capture the conference’s automatic bid on Wednesday afternoon.

Jacinta Buckley had a monster game with 21 points and 11 rebounds. The Eagles had five players score in double figures as well.

“This team is tough and resilient, they don't waver or panic. We knew if we upped our urgency at the defensive end to get more stops; we knew we would be able to catch up and make it a game,” head coach Joddie Gleason said. “One focus was to rebound because we knew they were 20-0 when they outrebounded their opponents. That was a huge factor for us. They got out early with a rebounding advantage, but we did a good job in the second half. Another focus for us was taking care of the ball and value every possession. Jamie [Loera] has the ball a lot and her assist-to-turnover ratio helps keep us in the positive [for turnovers]. [Jacinta Buckley] is the difference maker to win this championship. She was the key player for us and this game she took over in that stretch when we were trying to comeback. She is a tough matchup for our opponent and was huge for us today.“

Opening the game, NAU had its offense working as they built an 11-4 lead at the 5:24 point. Eastern fired back with four points, getting a long jumper from Jaydia Martin. With the ‘the Eagles trailing 12-10 at 3:33, the ‘Jacks ripped off an 8-0 run to go up by double digits. At the end of the quarter, EWU trailed 22-12 after shooting 35.7 percent in the first.

In the second quarter, NAU continued to get inside to score and went up 28-17 at the 7:13 mark. The ‘Jacks were up 30-22 with 5:28 on the clock before Eastern found a rhythm, launching an 8-0 run to tie the game. Buckley had four points, supported by layups from Aaliyah Alexander and Jaleesa Lawrence. Following a three from the ‘Jacks, Lawrence went inside for a layup to cut the lead down to one. At halftime, the Eagles trailed 33-32, improving their shooting 42.9 percent.

Moving to the third quarter, NAU again separated from Eastern with the first five points of the quarter. At the 6:19 point, the ‘Jacks had a 40-34 lead. Martin then drew a foul on a three-point play to bring the lead down to a possession. The lead was next cut down to one on a jumper from Alexis Pettis. The ‘Jacks scored the next four to separate for the Eagles once more. Buckley found the solution with five-straight points to tie the score at 44 and 3:02 on the clock. Down the stretch, the teams traded points and the score was tied at 48 at the end of the quarter.

Eastern finally broke through and took the lead on a layup from Lawrence. The advantage for Eastern did not get much bigger as NAU stayed close, with two ties early on. Buckley delivered a key and-one play to go up 55-52. Sitting with 4:50 left in the game, the Eagles were up 57-56 and managed to separate from the ‘Jacks. Jamie Loera connected from three and Alexander added two free throws for a 62-56 lead. EWU kept its advantage, with Martin providing the dagger three point shot with 51 seconds left and the score at 70-62. The lead held and the Eagles won the game, 73-64.

Gleason reflected on what it means to win the conference tournament at Eastern, “Winning this is huge for the program to get the outright title and the tournament title. That was really tough. We were the No. 1 seed going in and we’ve had a target on our back all year. I’m so proud of this team and it’s huge for the program. But I’m happy for the players, that they get to experience this.”

Eag Notes

The 2023-24 Eastern Washington team will be only the program’s second to play in the NCAA Tournament. The 1986-87 team lost to Oregon (75-56) in the first round.

Jacinta Buckley recorded her third double-double of the season and has 15 in her career. Buckley has 11 games scoring in double figures and four double-digit rebounding games.

Aaliyah Alexander recorded her 29th game this season scoring in double figures after finishing with 12 points. Jamie Loera posted her 26th double-digit scoring game, while Jaleesa

Lawrence had her 16th and Jaydia Martin her ninth.

Loera led the team with five assists and four blocks. The block total was a new career high for Loera.

The Eagles now have 14 games this season with 10 or more steals. Buckley led the team with three.

Eastern was edged in the rebounding battle (42 to 38), but tied in points in the paint with 36 each.

Eastern forced 20 turnovers and scored 15 points. The team committed only nine turnovers.

 

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