FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona University men's basketball team hopes to find its defensive effort where it left it last week when they host Idaho State in the Big Sky Conference home opener in Flagstaff on Thursday. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:35 p.m. at the Rolle Activity Center.
"I would say we left our defensive mindset in Flagstaff and it never made the trip with us to Montana," said Head Coach Mike Adras. "There is a point of emphasis on getting back to doing the things we have been successful at defensively."
NAU finished non-conference play holding opponents to just 38 percent shooting from the field and 31 percent beyond the arc, ranking among the league and national leaders in both categories. Montana and Montana State combined to shoot 51 percent from the field and better than 48 percent from three.
"I think our defense was lackadaisical," said senior Shane Johannsen. "We missed assignments. We let both teams score in the 80s in regulation and that is just too many points."
NAU will host Idaho State, which was picked to finish eighth in the conference, on Thursday. The Bengals (5-9) opened conference play with an overtime win over Sacramento State and a close loss to Portland State. They are led by Deividas Busman, who leads the Bengals in rebounding at 7.9 per game. He has recorded three straight double-doubles.
"They had two close games," said Adras of the Big Sky start for the Bengals. "Their big guy Busman is playing great. He has played 80 out of 85 minutes so far in conference play. It is pretty tremendous for a guy that size to carry that kind of load for that many minutes."
Adras and his team feel the importance of this game due to the 0-2 start. The Lumberjacks were one of three teams to start league play at 0-2 after the first weekend. They rebounded from a similar start last season. In the past, NAU has rebounded to win six or more Big Sky games in four of the previous five conference seasons that started 0-2, including posting an 8-8 record in 2009-10.
"We have had good practices," said Johannsen of the team's attitude this week. "We have a lot of focus and realize it is a must-win situation now especially being at home. We are 0-2 and have to get some wins."
NAU has shot the ball especially well of late. The Lumberjacks have shot better than 50 percent in each of the last four games and six of the last seven halves. They are shooting 54.6 (112-205) percent over the last four games while hitting 47.7 percent (21-of-44) beyond the arc.
They have moved among the national leaders in shooting entering the week based on the recent hot streak.
NAU ranks second in the country in three-point field goal percentage at 44.1 and 10th in field goal percentage at 49.7 in the NCAA rankings released on Jan. 2. NAU and Duke are only teams in Division I to rank among the national top 10 leaders in both field-goal percentage and 3-pt field goal percentage.
"I would expect that our guys would rebound from a tough first week of league play and respond the way that they have played for most of the season so far," said Adras. "We have to because we are at home. The whole philosophy in league play is you have to win your home games and get whatever you can on the road. Our first go around on the road did not go so well. Ultimately you have to play well at home.
NAU is 4-0 at home this season.
The game can be heard on the Lumberjack Radio Network on 105.1 FM The Big Talker and seen Universityhouse (Dish Network 9411) and Fox College Sports. Fans can also listen on the internet at www.bigtalkerradio.com and watch at www.bigskytv.org.
Dunn Deal: Sophomore Mike Dunn came off the bench to score a career-high nine points at Montana State, going 4-for-4 from the field and 1-for-1 from the line in eight minutes with a career-high three steals...
"It was nice to see that group of guys go in and play well for us," said Adras speaking of Mike Dunn and Luis Flores. "I was happy for him. Every player wants opportunity and he made the most of the opportunity. You never know when your number is going to be called and it is a matter of if you are going to be ready when it is called."
Slow Starts: NAU started slow in both halves at Montana State and out of the game at Montana. Adras hopes to see his team improve this week of out of the locker room.
"Our starts in both halves were not very good," said Adras. "I was really disappointed in both of the starts and they cost us a great deal at both Montana and Montana State."