This archived article was written by: Scott Froehlich
Utah State University Eastern women’s basketball team started their exhibition by splitting the first two games in Wyoming. After a lackluster performance against Casper College, the Eagles went on to win three straight games, the last two of which were at home.
The preseason began on Nov. 3 by participating in the GW Mechanical Tip-off Classic in Casper, Wyoming. After losing their first game 81-64 to Casper College, the Eagles bounced back the next day and disposed of Central Wyoming College to the tune of a 92-50 victory.
The following weekend, the team was at home for their first two home games at the BDAC over the weekend of Nov. 10-11. First up for the Eagles was a matchup with the Salt Lake Stars.
The Stars, a team comprised of former standout players from across Utah, proved to be a formidable opponent for USUE throughout the game. Their strong defense and tenacity kept the Eagles from establishing any consistent rhythm in the first quarter and they held onto a 21-16 lead over the home team heading into the next quarter.
In the second quarter, the Eagles’ players began to find their footing and found chinks in the Stars’ defense that enabled them to score more down low. Bad shooting and poorly-timed fouls by the Stars helped USUE, and the Eagle’s proficiency at the free throw line made Salt Lake pay. After outscoring the Stars 18-5 in the second, USUE took a 34-26 lead into the half.
As was the case in the first half, the Eagles controlled the pace in the third and took the play to the Stars. Salt Lake suffered from another period of missed shots and turnovers, which led to USUE padding their lead and distancing themselves from the Stars. Strong third quarter performances from Kaitlin Toluono and newcomer Brooklynn Barrus propelled the team to a 55-41 lead heading into the final frame.
The fourth quarter saw a momentary pushback from the visitors as the Stars went on an early run to cut into USUE’s lead. The Eagles weren’t helping themselves either, with turnovers and untimely fouls giving Salt Lake a window of opportunity. However, not even an early run, or missteps by the Eagles would let the Stars back in the game. USUE found their rhythm again and pulled away from the Stars. Great team passing and strong rebound control contributed to the Eagle’s success in the fourth and the team went on to win 73-55.
Freshman guard Alyssa Crumley commented on the marked change made by the team in the second half that helped the team come out on top. “After halftime, we regrouped; we got it together and everybody started doing well.” She also noted that team morale also plays into the team’s success saying, “If we’re having fun, that’s when we do well.”
Next for the Eagles was a meeting with the Laramie County Community College Golden Eagles.
In a sharp contrast from their last half against the Stars, USUE found themselves in a choppy first quarter. Both teams struggled to establish any momentum early on in what amounted to a tightly-contested, low-scoring start. Missed shots and foul trouble hindered the Eagles’ performance, and Laramie’s rebound control prevented second chance opportunities. After the first quarter finally drew to a close, the Eagles found themselves trailing Laramie 15-11.
The second period saw a rejuvenation by USUE as the team came out with a fast-paced start. Despite committing ill-advised fouls and a series of missed shots, the Eagles kept up with Laramie and kept things close. A nine-point quarter by Crumley and a late push by the Eagles sent them into the half with a 32-31 lead.
USUE entered the third quarter determined to put their sluggish first half behind them and took over the game early. The Eagles went on a 12-5 run by taking advantage of Laramie’s missed shots, controlling the boards and playing a solid team game. Things started to unravel for Laramie as the quarter moved along and they trailed by 10 points as the quarter drew to a close: 52-42 Eagles.
In the fourth, the Eagles completely dominated the play, and it was more of the same for Laramie as the difference on the scoreboard grew larger. USUE was running on all cylinders, and the tri o of Crumley, Toluono and Madison Loftus took the game over. Their combined 16 points and 13 rebounds topped off a great team effort that helped the Eagles cruise to a 75-57 victory over Laramie.
“The first half we were playing selfish and we weren’t really focused on each other. As soon as we turned to each other [in the second half], shots started to fall, no matter who was shooting them,” Loftus said. Head coach Chelsey Warburton said, “[Our philosophy is,] ‘Play your game, be confident in what we’re doing.’ We’re hard to stop when we play together.”
Warburton gave rave reviews of her team this season and has high hopes for them moving forward. “All of [the freshmen] are doing very well. They are picking up quick, and we have sophomore leaders who are teaching them along the way. Brooklynn [Barrus] will be one that will take a lot of pressure off Maddie [Loftus] and be another shooter for us.
“Rashel [Blazzard] at the point guard… is a transfer, so she’s got a lot of experience and Alyssa Crumley (24 points against Laramie) has done very well for us in the forward spot. We have a handful that are doing well and probably will continue to do well,” Warburton said.
In addition to Barrus and Crumley’s early success, Loftus and Toluono have also had strong starts to the season. Loftus scored 27 points against Central Wyoming Nov. 4, nearly matching her season high from last year and Toluono posted two consecutive double-doubles in the two games at the BDAC.
Exhibition play continues Nov. 16 when the Eagles play in the Arizona Challenge. The weekend of Nov. 24-25, the team returns to play in the SLCC Thanksgiving Tournament in Taylorsville.
To stay up-to-date with all things Eagles-related, and watch online streams of road games, visit usueasternathletics.com.