As the clocked ticked down to zero in their game against North Idaho College, the USU Eastern women were all smiles.
They had every reason to smile after getting a weekend sweep of College of Southern Idaho and NIC on Friday and Saturday, The wins, combined with an assist from league rival Colorado Northwestern Community College, allowed the Lady Eagles to finish in third place in the conference.
Down by 10 midway through the second half, Eastern used a late run to get past CSI 59-56 on Friday night. USU Eastern freshman Whitney Fieldsted made three of four free throws in the final moments to help seal the victory. Fieldsted's eight points were critical for Eastern on a night when star sophomore Priscila Santos struggled offensively with 20 points on 7-of-22 shooting.
The win did not come without a blemish as USU Eastern sophomore Caitlin Nelson injured her knee and her availability for the conference tournament is in question, according to head coach Dave Paur.
With one victory in hand, the Eastern women looked to continue their success against the seventh ranked and league leader NIC. Thanks to a hot start, Eastern led through the first half and took the lead for good early in the second half on their way to the 78-68 win on Saturday afternoon.
"We came out fired up and played well in the first half," said Paur.
Despite facing a deficit for most of the game, NIC continued to chip away with baskets. But the Eastern defense stood strong, getting stops which allowed Santos and freshman Hailee Parry to take over offensively for the Eastern.
"The girls didn't get down on themselves all game long," Paur said of when NIC would make things close. "I'm very proud of what they were able to do tonight to get the win."
Parry's play in the first half sparked Eastern, as she 13 points on 3-of-3 shooting from 3-point line. She finished with 20 points.
Santos, who has to deal with defenses looking to stop her, broke out for another big game with 40 points. Her 27 points in the second half, including 11-of-12 shooting from the free-throw line helped keep NIC from getting back into the game.
Santos credits her teamamtes with her success this season, citing their unselfishness in working towards getting wins.
"My teammates are very unselfish," Santos said. "It's not about one player on our team. Everyone contributes and is important to the team."
The wins should help with the team's confidence heading into the conference tournament opener against CNCC on Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m. in Salt Lake City.
"We deserved to win," Santos said. "It gives us a lot of momentum going into the conference tournament."
Eastern finished the season with an overall record of 16-14 and 8-7 in SWAC play.