LA GRANDE — Three weeks ago, Eastern Oregon University women’s basketball coach Anji Weissenfluh said her team was still searching for its identity.
It appears the Mountaineers have found it.
The suddenly sizzling Mounties ran their winning streak to five games in a row after defeating Oregon Tech Friday, 61-51, and blasting Southern Oregon Saturday, 75-53, in a pair of Cascade Collegiate Conference home games.
“They played hard this weekend,” Weissenfluh said. “I thought our defense and rebounding was outstanding. We gave up some points in the fourth quarter (on Saturday), but our defense and rebounding was as tough as it's been all year, so it started there. We had people step up.”
EOU had dropped to 3-3 in the CCC after back-to-back home losses to Northwest Christian and Corban that left the Mountaineers in the middle of the pack in the conference.
Now, Eastern is 8-3 and firmly back in the conference title mix as it sits in third place and trails both NCU and Corban by just a game.
“We had a huge coming to Jesus moment,” Rachel Fielder, who had 12 points in Friday’s win and followed with 20 points and 10 rebounds Saturday, said of the change in the team since those losses. “We talked and just realized we weren't playing Eastern basketball. We were almost afraid to let people down instead of just coming out and playing our game. Just a total mentality shift.”
Weissenfluh said the team is developing into a group that is confident but also relaxed, adding, “They're just going out there, doing what they're capable of doing, and not trying to do too much.
“When they put too much pressure on themselves, honestly it slows us down,” she said. “It overloads us. But when they can go out and play free, they do a lot better.”
Fielder also pointed to the defense as a key during the last three weeks.
“Clamps on defense and rebounding, and then just running. We’re going hard and attacking. It's a different mentality now,” she said.
EOU led nearly the entire night Friday, taking the lead for good early with a 14-0 run that Emma Logan, who had 11 points and 14 rebounds, capped with a 3-pointer. EOU held a 32-21 lead at the half and twice led by as much as 16 points in the second half, the last time on a jumper by Fielder for a 49-33 lead with 9:46 to play.
Tech got as close as 52-45 with 4:31 on the clock with a Kylie Meadows basket, but Jane Nelson countered with a 3-pointer and then a 3-point play to push the lead back to 13 and quell the OIT threat.
Megan Still added 12 points for EOU.
On Saturday, Fielder led a charge off the bench, as Eastern’s bench players combined for 47 points in a rout that was not as close as the final score indicated.
Fielder, Jill Albright (12 points) and Whitney Meier (eight points) combined for 40 of those bench points for Eastern, which never trailed and led by as much as 39 points.
Taylor Stricklin added 14 points and Logan had 10.
“I would say that’s one of the benefits of having so many girls and so many good players, because any night anybody can go off,” Logan said. “Our bench always contributes and that's what makes us be able to succeed.”
Eastern broke the game open in the second quarter when it held SOU without a point for the first 4:25 of the period and ended the quarter on a 10-2 run to take a 37-18 lead into the break on 3s by Fielder and Meier.
A layup by Albright and another 3 by Fielder gave EOU a 63-32 lead after three, and baskets by Logan and Kylie Smith and two from Stricklin to open the fourth put EOU ahead 71-32.
“I think a lot of it comes down to talk,” Logan said of the team’s defense. “Everybody ends up on different people all the time, and we were just talking more and rotating better, and that makes it so everyone can do their job better.”
EOU (14-7 overall, 8-3 CCC) visits Warner Pacific Friday.