Eagles Aim for Madness in March


Photo courtesy of photographer Bridget Mayfield

By Luke Pickett, Reporter

The 2022-23 regular season completed Monday, as the Eastern Washington men’s and women’s basketball programs look forward to the Big Sky Conference Tournament in Boise, ID, starting Saturday. 

Men’s Basketball

Eagles men’s basketball finished the regular season with a two-game skid, dropping their 18-game winning streak in a 71-63 loss to Idaho State in Pocatello. They then lost the regular season finale against Montana State 79-74, ending their historic season with a record of 22-9.

Although the losses hurt, the Eagles remained the top overall seed in the Big Sky heading into conference tournament weekend. Meanwhile, Montana State, who also finished with a 22-9 record, sits as the second seed due to their three conference game losses. 

Eastern’s only two in-conference losses came in the final two games of the season.

Eagles men’s basketball is scheduled to play Sunday, March 5 at 5:30 p.m. MT. As the one seed, EWU gets a first-round bye. #9 Northern Arizona and #10 Idaho will battle it out on Saturday, March 4 to see who gets a shot at taking down the top-seeded Eagles. 

EWU played against the NAU Lumberjacks twice this season, taking both games. In their first meeting, the two teams exchanged blows in a game that saw 13 lead changes. Eastern was able to pull out a victory as they jumped into the lead with 1:45 to play in the second half, stealing the game with a narrow 79-76 victory.

The second meeting was nearly a month later on Feb. 16, where EWU won 72-55. Though the second meeting appeared to be easier, the Eagles struggled to maintain momentum in the second half. Thanks to the bench, they were able to erase an NAU 14-8 run that sparked from turnovers.

Many consider NAU to be a big threat in the tournament, as their 9-22 record can be misleading. The Lumberjacks have lost 14 games by five or less, with seven of those games being decided by a single possession. Led by the fifth-leading scorer in the conference in Jalen Cone’s 17.3 points per game, the Lumberjacks could certainly be a tough opening matchup for the Eagles. 

The Eagles have also handled their other potential opponent, the Idaho Vandals, twice in the regular season. In their first meeting on Jan. 14 in Cheney, the Eagles put up arguably their best team performance of the year. In the 95-74 blowout, EWU shot 61 percent from the field with five players scoring in double-figures. 

In the second meeting on Feb. 11 in Moscow, the matchup was much more competitive. In the 73-66 Eagles win, there were 11 ties and six lead changes. The Vandals have the second and third leading scorers of the Big Sky in Isaac Jones and Divant’e Moffitt. The Eagles were able to restrict the big-man Jones in the first meeting, but Moffitt scored 29. The next time around, Moffitt was kept in check but Jones scored 18. 

“It takes grit,” said EWU men’s basketball head coach David Riley following the win on Feb. 11. “They’re a super talented team. They have guys that can get hot within one or two shots.”

Even with a 10-21 record, the race for the Big Sky title seems achievable with two of the top three scorers in the league. Should the Eagles face Idaho, the emphasis will be on the defensive end, keeping the ball out of the paint and away from Jones, who remains dominant in that area. 

If the Eagles win their first game of the tournament, they would play in the quarterfinals against the winner of game five between #4 Montana and #5 Idaho State. The winner of that game would then advance to the semifinals. 

Women’s Basketball 

Eagles women’s basketball finished the season strong with an 18-10 record, winning their last four games. 

The Eagles head into the Big Sky Conference Tournament as the fourth seed. Their first game will be on day three of the tournament against #5 Montana Grizzlies on Monday, March 6 at 12 p.m. MT. 

Montana and EWU split the regular season schedule, each winning a game on the opposing team’s floor. 

In the first matchup, Montana came to Cheney on Dec. 29 and beat the Eagles 81-70. The Grizz shot above 40 percent from the field, and also in 3-point field goals during the win led by Carmen Gfeller’s game-high 18 points. EWU struggled throughout the night, shooting just 21 percent from behind the arc. 

The second meeting between the Grizzlies and Eagles came on Jan. 16 in a seemingly easy 87-60 victory for EWU. Jaydia Martin torched the Gizz, scoring a career-high 33 points in the game that started with a 10-0 Eagles run. 

EWU was able to make a statement in Missoula, pushing the deficit to 31 at one point in the contest. 

Led by Freshman guard Aaliyah Alexander, the Eagles look to repeat the style of play that got them the largest margin of victory against Montana. 

What’s at stake?

The EWU men’s and women’s basketball teams can receive an automatic qualification for the NCAA tournament if they win their conference tournaments. 

It is possible for the men’s basketball team to receive an at-large bid due to the fact that they were able to maintain the nation’s largest winning streak for over a month. 36 teams receive an at-large bid, determined by the Selection Committee on Selection Sunday (March 12) based on statistics. 

The men’s program has appeared in the NCAA tournament three times, with their last trip in 2021. 

The women’s program has appeared in the NCAA tournament just once in 1987, after winning the conference championship back when EWU was in the Mountain West Athletic Conference (MWAC).