FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona men's basketball team begins a three-game road stretch Thursday at Big Sky Conference leader Weber State. The Wildcats boast the Division I scoring leader in junior standout Damian Lillard. Tipoff is at 7:00 p.m. at the Dee Events Center.
The Lumberjacks are coming off a tough loss to Montana State Saturday that was bolstered by an impressive late effort via the team's full-court press that helped erase a 14-point deficit. NAU took a brief two-point lead in the game but could not complete the comeback effort.
"We are not going to back off pressing and it is going to be our style," said Interim Head Coach Dave Brown. "We are going to take that momentum into Weber State and Idaho State. That is going to be our style and what I think is the best style for this team."
The Lumberjacks forced 22 turnovers in the game, including 11 in the second half.
"I think they are starting to believe in it a little bit and after that half they got into it with Montana State," said Brown. "Maybe with a couple moves at the end, we might have got the win. We made some mistakes but we took some big steps."
NAU will face a confident Wildcat squad led by Lillard. The Wildcats are 14-3 on the season and a perfect 6-0 in league play and 10-0 at home this season. Lillard is leading the league and nation at 25.5 points per game. He is tops in the conference and ninth in the nation in free throw percentage (90.8) and second in the Big Sky and 16th in the nation in three-point percentage (45.7). He also ranks among the top 10 in rebounding and assists.
"We will approach with great respect for his talents and will probably try to do some things defensively to slow him down a little bit," said Brown. "I think the press will slow him down and may take the ball out of his hands a little more. But once he gets it anybody in the conference is in trouble. We can hope to maybe control the other players. We are going to take it as a challenge and see what we can do with it."
Weber State leads the all-time series 67-26 and has a 40-6 advantage in Ogden. The Wildcats have won six straight in the series with the last Lumberjack victory a 75-70 win in the Big Sky Tournament in 2007-08. NAU swept the Wildcats that season in three games, including a 69-56 victory in Ogden. The Lumberjacks have won just three of the last 20 meetings in Ogden against the Wildcats.
"They always have a really good crowd and their teams have been really, really tough," said junior guard Stallon Saldivar, who is from Salt Lake City. "You try to take the crowd out of it."
Saldivar, who will be playing in his 78th career game on Thursday, liked the effort of his team against Montana State.
"The way we came out in the second half was real good to see," said Saldivar. "We got steals and we were hustling. I think we will see some carry over in our next games. We finally saw how we should play and not put our heads down when we are down double digits."
The game can be heard on the Lumberjack Radio Network on 105.1 FM The Big Talker in Flagstaff, Prescott and Sedona and online via The Big Talker website and their free Big Talker mobile app for Androids, Blackberries, iPhones and iPads. It will also be available online via Big Sky TV.
"Weber is always a fun trip," said Saldivar. "I get a lot of support out there and I am looking forward to it. Whenever you get momentum in your game you start to get confidence and I think that is what is going on. We are starting to see how we can actually play and hang with teams. The big thing is carry over and you want to carry over the momentum to the next game."