BOISE – The open look was familiar for Violet Kapri Morrow, but the stakes weren’t.
When Eastern Washington’s trusty senior guard let go of an 8-foot jumper as time expired Friday in the Big Sky Tournament championship game, she thought the upset-minded Eagles were headed to overtime.
It clanked off the rim, though, and confetti burst for No. 4 seed Portland State, which denied sixth-seeded EWU its first NCAA Tournament berth in 32 years in a come-from-behind 61-59 win.
EWU, playing in its first Big Sky championship game since 1988, led for nearly 30 minutes before Portland State switched gears late, ending the game on an 11-2 run.
“I was confident when I shot it,” said Morrow, who was held to nine points, half of her season average. “It just didn’t fall.”
Portland State freshman Desirae Hansen’s 12-foot shot from the elbow with 3.1 seconds left was the difference.
“I feel really bad that I couldn’t get these guys to the NCAA Tournament,” said an emotional Wendy Schuller, EWU’s 18-year head coach whose team upset No. 3 Idaho State and No. 2 Northern Colorado to get to the title game
“They deserved it. They worked so hard for it, and I just feel really bad that I couldn’t get them there.”
EWU freshman Grace Kirscher’s bucket at the 5:35 mark in the fourth quarter gave the Eagles a 57-50 lead, their biggest cushion of the afternoon.
From there, EWU, which didn’t appear rattled by the championship stage for most of the game, fizzled down the stretch.
A series of turnovers and empty possessions gave high-powered Portland State – a team that handled EWU twice during the regular season – ample opportunities to mount a comeback.
Eleven of EWU’s 15 turnovers were in the second half.
Crafty EWU freshman point guard Jessica McDowell-White hit a floater with 20 seconds left to tie the game before Hansen’s late-game heroic vaulted the Vikings.
McDowell-White (14 points) and fellow point guard Alissa Sealby (15 points, four assists) combined for seven of EWU’s nine 3-pointers. The Eagles shot 38 percent from the field.
“Our shots (in the fourth quarter) weren’t falling, and that may have had an impact on our confidence,” Sealby said. “We weren’t cutting as hard, and were looking to pass and not shoot the way we did in the first half.”
EWU played without junior Uriah Howard, the Big Sky Conference’s Reserve of the Year. She suffered a leg injury in Wednesday’s win over Northern Colorado and was on crutches.
Portland State’s Ashley Bolston, the tournament Most Valuable Player, was a force on both ends of the floor, often denying EWU’s top scorers looks at the basket.
Bolston had 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a game that had a combined 16 fouls.
“Our press made (EWU) speed up and get into their offense faster, and I thought that really changed the game,” Portland State coach Lynn Kennedy said. “It was an adjustment we were waiting for.”