BOISE – The difference between elimination and Eastern Washington’s first Big Sky Conference Tournament championship game appearance in 31 years?
A heads-up play by a crafty Australian point guard.
The sixth-seeded Eagles’ 59-57 semifinal upset of No. 2 seed Northern Colorado on Wednesday at CenturyLink Arena was the product of a slick, impromptu out-of-bounds play by EWU freshman Jessica McDowell-White in the final seconds.
EWU trailed by one point with 4.6 seconds left when McDowell-White began to inbound the ball underneath her basket, but couldn’t find an opening.
When Northern Colorado star Savannah Smith turned her back to McDowell-White in the key, the Aussie purposely threw if off Smith’s back, picked it up in bounds and scored as she was fouled.
“I knew we needed a bucket and her back was to me,” said McDowell-White, who scored 10 points. “It was overloaded on one side, so I just threw it off of her.
“I’ve seen (that play) happen in a game, but I had never done it before.”
EWU is now a win away from its second NCAA Tournament appearance in program history. It faces No. 4 seed Portland State (24-7) in Friday’s championship game. The Vikings handled the Eagles twice by double-digit margins during the regular season.
But so did No. 3 seed Idaho State, which fell 67-65 in overtime to the Eagles in overtime on Tuesday.
And like EWU’s upset of Idaho State, the Eagles shook off chilly first-half shooting and a 13-point deficit.
Violet Kapri Morrow scored a team-high 14 points and nine rebounds for EWU, which outscored UNC 14-7 in the third quarter when the Eagles took their first lead late in the quarter.
EWU, which had multiple turnovers in the final minute to erase a five-point lead, didn’t trail again until Krystal Leger-Walker hit a jumper to give the UNC a 57-56 lead with 7 seconds left.
EWU’s Morrow, Grace Kirscher and Brittany Klaman combined to hit 10 of 11 free throws in the final five minutes.
“That group in the locker room, I don’t deserve them,” longtime EWU coach Wendy Schuller said. “They’re relentless”
“I thought we had it there at the end,” UNC coach Jenny Huth said. “But the ball bounces funny ways sometimes.”