Women's Basketball again clips Eagles, stays in hunt for bye
GREELEY -- Sophomore D'shara Strange scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds Thursday night at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion to lead Northern Colorado Women's Basketball past Eastern Washington, 56-49, for the second time this season.
With the win, the Bears (16-10, 8-5 Big Sky), who also got 14 points from senior Kaisha Brown and 11 from junior Lauren Oosdyke, stayed in a three-way loss column tie for third in the Big Sky Conference standings, with Montana and Montana State, and kept within range of a second-place finish.
The Bears have already clinched a spot in this year's Big Sky Conference Championship (March 8-10), but getting to that two spot would give them a coveted bye into the Championship semifinals.
"Now that we're in the tournament we've just got to get better," White said. "We have to get better, and we have to continue to improve ourselves and work on ourselves and get ready for the tournament.
"The most important thing is we can't worry about anything else. We have got to focus on ourselves. Obviously, we have some things we can get better at, and we need to continue to work on those things. We're in the tournament, that's all that matters. Now we've just got to do the best we can to get better and be ready to go when the tournament starts."
Eastern Washington (16-10, 10-3) came into Thursday one of the Big Sky's hottest teams, owning a six-game winning streak and claiming victories in nine of its past 10 games.
But the Bears allowed only Eastern's Brianne Ryan to reach double figures in points. She finished with 16, just below her season average of 19.8 points per game.
"I thought [Ryan] did a good job in the first half," White said. "She got some shots that we were not excited about, but toward the end of the game I thought our kids did a better job of getting out on her."
Northern Colorado led 51-49 with 30 seconds to play and had a chance to blow the game open but made just one of six potential free throws in a two-second span to find itself still clinging to a 52-49 lead with 13 seconds left.
Let's go back.
Eastern Washington pulled with 51-49 at the 1:49 mark on a pair of free throws from Carrie Ojeda, and that score held until the 30-second mark, when Chene Cooper sent Victoria Timm to the line after an intentional clock-stopping foul.
Before Timm could try her freebies, though, Eagles coach Wendy Schuller took out some frustration on her chair back on the bench, and the officials whistled her for a technical, giving the Bears a shot at four free points with the clock stopped.
Brown, who had made 34 of 41 free throws on the season (82.9 percent), made just one of her two technical tries, and Timm missed the front end of her one-and-one.
Timm grabbed the offensive rebound off her miss and was fouled immediately, but she missed both of her subsequent free throws.
So, Northern Colorado, which made seven of 14 free throws in the game, had a chance to lead by as many as eight, at 57-49, with 28 seconds to go, but instead found itself ahead just three when Ryan missed a potential tying 3-pointer with 13 seconds to play.
Strange and Oosdyke iced the victory from there with two free throws apiece.
"We would have liked to have sealed off those free throws at the end there, but you know, under pressure situations those are tough things," White said. "I thought Kaisha's one free throw was huge, and we came down and we made a good defensive stand, and, really, the name of the game tonight was defense.
"Those free throws in those situations are tough, and you've really got to step up and knock them down. And, also, you've got be grateful that they shot 50 percent [too]! So, flip a coin."
The Eagles led 28-25 with 1:37 to play before halftime when Northern Colorado ratcheted up its defensive effort and allowed Eastern Washington to score just four points over the next seven plus minutes, a span that stretched nearly midway through the second half.
That allowed White's team to take a 35-32 lead, and it never trailed again.