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When you think of Ray Giacoletti's Eastern Washington University Eagles squad one word comes to mind: defense. Everything about EWU revolves around tenacious, all-out, stifling, fundamental defense. Even the offense is a product of the defense. It's a philosophy that has served the Eagles from Cheney, Washington, well this year with wins over San Diego State of the Mountain West Conference and Pac-10 team Washington.
6'2" Alvin Snow is the man who gets it all going for Eastern. The former Franklin High star and State 4A Player of the Year is the Eagles best defender and thrives on steals and anticipating passes for intercepts and easy breakaway lay-ins. Snow is also a threat on offense, driving inside or shooting the trey. Alvin averages 16 ppg and has had an eye-popping 30 steals through nine games.
Complimenting Snow is 6'3" Brendon Merrit, a tough point guard who sat out last year with a bad back. Backing up Merrit at the point is 6' freshman Danny Periseau, a scrappy, hustling product of Shadle Park High in Spokane. Merrit averages 10 ppg while Pariseau gets almost 6 ppg. Pariseau is the better 3-point shooter at 46%.
6'4" Chris Hester has made a name for himself as yet another defensive specialist who can also get it going on the offensive end. The small forward is a handful, and together with Snow, creates nightmares for opposing teams. Hester scores 12 ppg and grabs over 5 rebounds per game.
At the other forward spot is 6'7" Marc Axton, another State 4A Player of the Year for Foss High in Tacoma. Axton earned Big Sky Freshman of the Year honors last year. He is a deadly 3-point shooter and has the height and ability to be effective inside as well. 6'5" Keith Browne is also prominent in the Eagles' arsenal, the senior from Kent, WA, providing leadership and a fiery presence on the court. Axton has averaged almost 6 ppg while Browne has been scoring a little more than 5 ppg.
Eastern isn't a big team inside but 6'8" T.J. Williams is active and does a good job of anchoring the middle. He'll receive help from 6'10" Gregg Smith and 6'11" Jeremy McCulloch who come off the bench. Williams averages almost 6 ppg and snatches a team high 6 rpg, but Smith actually averages more with 7.4 ppg and 3.6 rpg.
Gonzaga will have to execute its offense with precision and play hard-nosed defense itself. Eastern excels at making other teams play "ugly." Last year the Zags found themselves down by 16 at the half with EWU dominating. But the Eagles watched their lead and victory slip away as GU tied them, forced overtime and won by 10 in The Kennel. You can bet Eastern is motivated like never before for this rematch which will be witnessed by a jam-packed 11,000+ fans in the Spokane Arena.