December 05, 2002 11:00 pm

By Pierre LaBossire

Observer Staff Writer

The Eastern Oregon women staged a frantic come-from-behind rally Thursday night against Whitworth, but came up one shot short.

The women nearly stole a game in which they were down by eight points with just over a minute left and their top scorer was on the bench, but a three-pointer to win the game rattled out and Eastern (2-4) lost 67-65.

One stat stood out after this game — offensive rebounds. Whitworth dominated the boards with 16 offensive rebounds, while Eastern only had four.

"That really was the game right there," said coach Anji Weissenfluh. She said early foul trouble was also a factor.

Still, Weissenfluh was proud of the women's effort, especially down the stretch.

"We were right there. We just have to do the little things," she said. "We might have started our comeback a little too late."

Weissenfluh said that in hindsight, she might have put a full-court press into play a bit earlier. Whitworth had trouble handling the Mountaineers' press as Eastern forced two huge turnovers in the final minute.

The Eastern women struggled from the floor early. The Pirates (4-1) at one point built up a 35-22 lead in the first half.

Eastern only shot 28 percent from the field in the first half, but found themselves behind just 37-28 at the break.

Whitworth's lead stayed at five to 10 points through most of the second half. The Mountaineers were still down 66-58 with 1:15 left in the game. Adding to the adversity, their top scorer, Jamie Jo Cant, fouled out of the game with 1:30 left.

Then the comeback began. Tricia Haddock drove to the bucket for a quick lay-in to make it 66-60.

The Mountaineers put on a full-court press, and Christy Smith, who played fantastic down the stretch, scoring nine points in the final two minutes, immediately stole the ball and hit a quick basket to make it 66-62 with 50 seconds left.

Cory Nelson grabbed a rebound on a missed Pirates' shot and was fouled. She made one of two from the line. The Mountaineers' Lacy Johnson then stole the ball and with 40 seconds left, and Smith was fouled, adding two more free throws to make it 66-65.

Whitworth held the ball on its next possession as long as it could, and fired up a shot with seven seconds remaining. The Pirates' Chrissy Oneal grabbed the rebound and the Mountaineers were forced to foul. Oneal made one of two to make the score 67-65. Eastern got the rebound on her miss and called timeout with five seconds left.

The Mountaineers set up a high pick at the top of the arc for Haddock, but her shot at the buzzer stayed out.

Smith led the team with 15 points, while Cory Nelson had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Cant scored 11 and Katlin Lafferty scored nine off the bench.

Whitworth was led by Tiffany Speer with 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Dani Bielec scored 15.

The Eastern women next play Concordia Dec. 17 on the road in their conference opener.

Whitworth (67)

Michelle Gallagher 1-7 0-1 3, Kara Marusa 1-6 0-0 2, Tiffany Speer 6-14 4-6 16, Sarah Shogren 3-6 0-0 6, Chrissy Oneal 3-15 4-4 11, Kyla Beem 0-3 0-0 0, Micki DesMarais 5-5 0-0 10, Dani Bielec 5-6 2-6 15, Jennie Wild 1-2 1-2 4. Totals: 25-64, 11-19 67.

Eastern Oregon (65)

Tricia Haddock 1-9 2-2 4, Cory Nelson 4-7 3-4 12, Jamie Jo Cant 4-10 2-5 11, Christy Smith 5-8 5-5 15, Michelle Kinley 2-3 3-4 7, Lacy Johnson 2-3 0-0 5, Katlin Lafferty 2-4, 4-6 9, Brye Quatre 0-1 0-0 0, Sara Cole 0-4 0-0 0, Beth Hull 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 21-51 19-26 65.

Halftime score — Whitworth 37, EOU 28. Three-pointers — Whitworth 6-23 (Gallagher 1-5, Marusa 0-4, Speer 0-1, Shogren 0-2, Oneal 1-3, Beem 0-2, Bielec 3-4, Wild 1-2). EOU 4-17 (Haddock 0-6, Nelson 1-1, Cant 1-6, Smith 0-1, Johnson 1-1, Lafferty 1-2). Fouled out — Bielec, Cant. Total fouls — Whitworth 22, EOU 24. Technical fouls — None. Turnovers — Whitworth 14, EOU 17. Rebounds — Whitworth 47 (Speer 12), EOU 34 (Nelson 10). Assists — Whitworth 14 (Speer 7), EOU 13 (Haddock, Cant 4).