BERKELEY, Calif. - The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team closed out its Thanksgiving trip to the Bay Area with a 50-45 victory over Cal State Fullerton on Saturday (Nov. 24) at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif.
With the win, the Eagles claimed third place in the 2012 Cal Classic by Doubletree, while improving their season record to 2-3.
Cal State Fullerton was the third opponent EWU has faced this season out of the Big West Conference. Eastern dropped two games earlier in the year to the top two teams in the league in Pacific and Cal State Northridge.
Eastern scored the first field goal of Saturday's game at the 18:09-mark, and was able to preserve that slight advantage the rest of the way.
"We jumped out on them [Fullerton] early, and were getting some good defensive stops," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "We were also shooting the ball well, which enabled us to build a little bit of a lead."
Following a Cal State Fullerton layup at 17:06, Eastern went on a 17-6 run over the next eight minutes to enjoy a 21-9 lead. Six different Eagles scored at least two points during the surge.
The Eagle shooting cooled off slightly at the end of the first half, and the Titans managed to pull within four points with less than three minutes remaining on the clock. The two teams traded a few empty possessions before sophomore Melissa Williams made a layup just before the end of the half to give EWU at 28-22 edge heading into the locker room.
Offensively, Eastern struggled in the second period, converting just 5-of-18 attempts from the field. But the Eags made up for it on the defensive end, holding Cal State Fullerton to just 31.3 percent from the field and keeping them off free throw line completely.
Eastern notched 10 points from the charity stripe in the second half, compared to zero for the Titans.
The Eagles were also dominant on the glass, earning a 38-31 advantage in rebounds. Coming into the game, Cal State Fullerton had averaged more than 21 offensive rebounds per game, but against the Eagles, it only managed to corral seven.
"We did a fantastic job on the glass," said Schuller. "Our rebounding was huge for us tonight. Carrie [Ojeda] did a great job, but Melissa [Williams] and Laura [Hughes] had some big boards for us as well, and our guards also did a good job of cleaning up for us. Overall, it was a really strong effort."
Eastern put just two points on the board in the first seven minutes of the second half. But following a jumper from Hughes at the 12:32 mark, the Eagles scored seven unanswered points, giving them their largest lead of the game at 39-26.
The Titans were able to cut the lead to as little as three, but Eastern made 6-of-8 free throws in the final two and a half minutes to keep the game just out of reach.
"It was a grind," said Schuller. "But we played good defense and found a way to pull ahead at the end. This was good for us because we hadn't really played in a close game all season."
Coming into Saturday's contest against Cal State Fullerton, EWU had not played in a single game decided by single digits. The closest margin was a 13-point loss to Pacific in the season opener.
Senior Carrie Ojeda delivered a solid all-around effort on Saturday against the Titans, with 11 points, 11 rebounds and a team-leading four assists.
Sophomore Lexie Nelson had 15 points, 12 of which came from the free throw line. She also added three assists.
Hughes and Williams combined for eight points and 14 rebounds, while junior Aubrey Ashenfelter had nine tallies, to go along with two rebounds and two assists.
Junior starter Chenise Pakootas finished with five points, five rebounds, two assists and three steals. Pakootas is averaging a team-leading 2.2 steals per game this season.
Eastern will remain on the road for its next contest, but the team will be able to sleep in its own beds the night before, as the game is much closer to home. The Eagles will take the 75-mile trek to Moscow, Idaho to play the Idaho Vandals on Tuesday (Nov. 27) at 6 p.m.