2019-20 EWU basketball preview

A comprehensive look ahead to the seasons for EWU men's and women's basketball

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2019-20 EWU basketball preview

EWU sophomore guard/forward Kim Aiken Jr. will look to build upon his successful ending to last season.

EWU sophomore guard/forward Kim Aiken Jr. will look to build upon his successful ending to last season.

Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner

EWU sophomore guard/forward Kim Aiken Jr. will look to build upon his successful ending to last season.

Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner

Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner

EWU sophomore guard/forward Kim Aiken Jr. will look to build upon his successful ending to last season.

By Drew Lawson and Randle Kinswa, Sports editor and sports reporter

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Women’s basketball relying on young core

Eagles looking to build on late 2018-19 success

Bailey Monteith for The Easterner
EWU sophomore guard Jessica McDowell-White figures to be one of the Eagles’ primary contributors this season.

The EWU women’s basketball team is looking to build off its success from last season, when the Eagles advanced to the Big Sky Conference Tournament championship  game for the first time in 31 years.

EWU head coach Wendy Schuller said the goals for the team are to win the Big Sky championship, regular season and tournament.

Schuller said the team will reach these goals by believing in their process and each other.

“(We have to) be willing to put ourselves out there and (sometimes fail) … to get to the point where we can grow,” Schuller said. “Our goal is to get better every day. … If we get a little bit better each day and each week, … I think by March we will be in a pretty good place.”

EWU is ranked No. 6 in the BSC media poll, receiving one first place vote. The Eagles are ranked No. 7 in the coaches’ poll.

With a large number of returners, EWU will have a deep rotation. Schuller said that depth will greatly aide the team.

“We are at least 10 players deep this year,” Schuller said. “We want to be able to push the tempo, … put more defensive pressure on teams and be a little more extended. … Depth helps with those things a lot.”

The Eagles return 10 players from last year’s roster, including three starters: junior guard Brittany Klaman, sophomore guard Grace Kirscher and sophomore center Bella Cravens. The team also brings back sophomore guard Jessica McDowell-White and senior center Leya DePriest, who both played significant minutes last year. 

Bailey Monteith for The Easterner
Sophomore guard Grace Kirscher is EWU’s leading returning scorer this year.

McDowell-White said the team’s goals are to win the BSC and progressively get better day by day. 

“I think we got to take it one step at a time,” McDowell-White said. “Last year we started off pretty slow. … Once conference starts, (we) just go from there and (not) look back.”

McDowell-White said she’d like to become more of a scoring threat this season. 

“I’m more of a pass-first guard so I need to take some more opportunities to shoot … and keep the defense on their toes,” McDowell-White said.

McDowell-White said she is ready to take on more of a leadership role. 

“Most of us returning are looking to be leaders,” said McDowell-White. 

McDowell-White said the name of the game for EWU is pushing the tempo.

“I think a strength of ours is definitely the running game,” McDowell-White said. “I think we are definitely undersized compared to some of the teams in our league … we will be looking to run a lot.”

McDowell-White said EWU’s defense could use some work.

“We need to work on our defensive help rotation,” McDowell-White said. “Our defensive principles are different from what many people are used to. … Once we get those down, we will be looking real good.” 

McDowell-White said her excitement level for the season is a “10 out of 10.”

Cravens said she wants EWU to grow in its trust of each other.

“Last year we did trust each other, … but it just took a little longer,” Cravens said. “As of now we are coming together a lot quicker than we were last year.”

Cravens said she’d like to improve her offensive game.

“I would like to become more of an offensive threat,” Cravens said. “That would help the team and my confidence so much more. … If I am more of an offensive threat it would force people to (help down on me) in the post … which would open up (more perimeter) shots for my teammates.” 

Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner
EWU sophomore center Bella Cravens will take on an increased role in the Eagles’ offense this season.

Schuller said freshman guard Jenna Dick and freshman wing Kennedy Dickie will both be players who could help the team from day one. 

“They kind of have that international basketball IQ … which makes them as incoming freshmen a little bit ahead of the game,” Schuller said. “They both shoot the ball extremely well.”

Schuller said the key to a successful offense for EWU will be balance.

“(Our plan) is pushing the tempo, … having good spacing, … being balanced and being able to score inside and out,” Schuller said.

Schuller said the player who has improved the most from last year is redshirt freshman forward Milly Knowles. 

“She redshirted last year because of a foot injury,” Schuller said. “She is technically a freshman for us, but you wouldn’t think it.”

Schuller said the x-factor of this team is selfless play.

“I think the (x-factor) is our willingness to share the ball,” Schuller said. “It’s our willingness to make the extra pass for a great shot instead of taking an average shot.”

Schuller said the team has great chemistry.

This team has spent so much time together,” Schuller said. “They all kind of live in the same area of Cheney, … they spend most of their out-of-basketball time with each other. … I think with our characters and personalities it’s a great mix of individuals.”

Schuller also said she is very excited for the season.

“We are ready to start playing some games,” Schuller said. “This is just a fun team to coach. … I really enjoy coming to practice everyday. … I enjoy traveling with them. … That makes this profession that I am in so much more rewarding … I think all of those things will transfer onto the basketball (court).” •

Five WBB players to watch

G Grace Kirscher – Sophomore

Kirscher is the Eagles’ leading returning scorer with an average of 10.4 points per game. Kirscher shot 39.7% from the field, 34% from long distance and 74.5% from the free throw line. Kirscher also had 47 assists and 38 steals. Kirscher started 25 games last year and had a team high six-three pointers made in a game against Southern Utah.

G Jessica McDowell-White – Sophomore

McDowell-White averaged 8.5 points per game last season. She shot 39% from the field, 38.8% from long distance and 88.5% from the free throw line. The latter two are both returning team highs. McDowell-White also had 75 assists and 25 steals while starting 11 games last year.

C Bella Cravens – Sophomore

Cravens returns as EWU’s leading rebounder and shot-blocker after tallying 142 total rebounds and 49 blocks last year. Cravens also averaged 3.2 points per game last year. Cravens shot 42.2 % from the field (a returning team high) and shot 55.1% from the free throw line. Cravens started 17 games last year and had a team-high 15 rebounds against Sacramento State.

G Brittany Klaman – Junior

Klaman was EWU’s assists leader last year with 88. Klaman also had 27 steals. She shot 27.9% from the field, 22.8% from 3-point range and 76.7% from the free throw line last year. Klaman started 29 games last year, which is a returning team high. The junior point guard had 10 assists in a game last year against Montana State, which was a team high. 

G Jenna Dick – Freshman

Dick is from British Columbia, Canada, where she played for Brookswood Secondary School. EWU head coach Wendy Schuller said she’s impressed by her basketball IQ and her ability to shoot the ball. Schuller said she is a player who is going to help the team from day one.  

Top five WBB games of the year

@ Stanford – Nov. 5 @ 7:00 p.m. – Stanford Maples Pavilion, Stanford, CA

@ Gonzaga – Nov. 22 @ 6:00 p.m. – McCarthey Athletic Center, Spokane, WA

vs Montana State – Jan. 18 @ 2:05 p.m. – Reese Court, Cheney, WA

vs Idaho – Feb. 13 @ 5:35 p.m. – Reese Court, Cheney, WA

vs Northern Colorado – Feb. 29 @ 12:05 p.m. – Cheney, WA

 

Men’s basketball enters season with heightened expectations

Richard N. Clark IV for The Easterner
EWU junior guard Jacob Davison is back from injury and is a strong candidate to lead the Eagles in scoring this season.

In the last two seasons, the EWU men’s basketball team advanced to the Big Sky Conference Tournament championship before falling to the University of Montana.

This season, the expectation is to take the next step.

“We all want to get to the NCAA tournament,” EWU head coach Shantay Legans said.

The winner of the Big Sky Conference Tournament earns an automatic berth into March Madness, and the Eagles are favorites to do so. The BSC coaches picked EWU to win the conference, earning eight out of 11 possible first place votes. UM earned the other three first place votes.

EWU junior guard Jacob Davison said the team is ready to handle the high expectations.

“We have the same mentality we had when we’ve been picked third or fourth the past couple years,” Davison said. “It’s nice to be picked first, but overall we have the same edge and same chip on our shoulder that we did the past two seasons.”

Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner
EWU sophomore guard/forward Kim Aiken Jr. attempts a free throw.

EWU is favored to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament for just the third time in school history in large part due to its depth. The Eagles have between 10-12 players that could be key contributors in the 2019-20 season. Legans said that depth will make EWU difficult to defend.

“In the past, we’ve had guys who are great three-point shooters who aren’t able to put the ball on the floor, or guys that can really drive the ball but couldn’t shoot it,” Legans said. “Now we have multiple players who can do both things.”

EWU returns a plethora of key contributors. Most notably among those returners are Davison and senior forward Mason Peatling, who were named to the preseason All-Big Sky team. 

The Eagles are also expecting high efforts from returners like senior guard Tyler Kidd, junior guard Jack Perry, sophomore forward Tanner Groves and sophomore guard/forward Kim Aiken Jr. Players like sophomore guard Elijah Jackson and redshirt freshman guard Casson Rouse could also see increased roles for the Eagles in 2019-20.

Peatling said he saw improvement from every returner over the offseason. 

“Everybody’s taken steps in different areas,” Peatling said. “Some guys are physically on another level, and that’s really going to improve their game. Other guys have worked on a shot or a skill that they didn’t have last year that they can bring to the table this year.”

EWU will redshirt most of its true freshmen, but Ellis Magnuson could be an exception. The highly-touted point guard was running with the starting offense during practices open to the media. 

EWU tips off the season on Nov. 5 against Portland Bible College. Tip-off is at 6:05 p.m. at Reese Court. 

Five MBB players to watch

G Jacob Davison – Junior

The junior guard missed the last 10 games of the 2018-19 season with a right ankle sprain. Davison is fully healthy now and is a strong candidate to lead EWU in scoring. Davison scored a career-high 41 points against Northern Arizona last year.

F Mason Peatling – Senior

Peatling is EWU’s best inside scoring threat and defender. EWU head coach Shantay Legans said Peatling is EWU’s “linebacker” on defense and that whenever the Eagles need a stop, he just needs to make sure Peatling is on the floor. 

G/F Kim Aiken Jr. – Sophomore

Aiken Jr. carved out a role as the 2018-19 season progressed and had his best moments at the end of the season, including a 3-pointer from the left corner at the buzzer to beat Portland State on Senior Day. Aiken said his shooting and ball handling improved this offseason and he figures to have a much larger role in the offense.

F Tanner Groves – Sophomore

Groves got a bigger role than expected last year after Peatling was forced to miss 12 games with injury. Groves brings a soft shooting touch and toughness underneath. Legans said Groves has had a great preseason and wants to use him in two-big sets with Peatling this season.

G Ellis Magnuson – Freshman

The true freshman from Boise, Idaho might be EWU’s only newcomer to see significant minutes in the 2019-20 season. The point guard was running with the first-team offense during practices open to the media. Legans called Magnuson one of the best passers he’s seen at the high school level.

Top five MBB games of the year

vs Belmont – Nov. 26 @ 6:05 p.m. – Reese Court, Cheney, WA

@ Washington – Dec. 4 @ 7:00 p.m. – Alaska Airlines Arena, Seattle, WA

@ Gonzaga – Dec. 21 @ 2:00 p.m. – McCarthey Athletic Center, Spokane, WA

vs Montana – Jan. 9 @ 6:05 p.m. – Reese Court, Cheney, WA

vs Weber State – March 7 @ 2:05 p.m. – Reese Court, Cheney, WA

Player mugshots from goeags.com. 

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