FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – After a 10-day holiday break, the NAU women's basketball team (5-7) opens Big Sky play this week at Sacramento State (5-8) on Thursday and at Northern Colorado (7-5) on Saturday. Sacramento State was picked to finished last in both Big Sky preseason polls while Northern Colorado was picked second by the media and third by the coaches. Both games can viewed for free on Big Sky TV.
"This team has big goals for conference play and it would be great to start with some road wins," said NAU head coach Laurie Kelly. "I look for our team to come out hungry. We had a nice break to spend some time with our families but now its time to go to work. We don't have class right now so its really time to focus on our team and individual performance and start to make a run at a conference championship."
NAU's five non-conference wins this season equaled the most for the program since the 2006-07 season, while the five home non-conference wins were the most since 2004-05. While the Lumberjacks have played outstanding basketball at home, the road has been unkind to NAU, which has been outscored by an average of 18.5 points in six road games. The Lumberjacks overall field goal percentage is eight points lower on the road, while NAU has shot 28% from three-point range on the road compared to 36% outside shooting at home. NAU did win its last Big Sky road game last season, ending the year with an 82-77 win at Sacramento State.
The Lumberjacks and Hornets have combined for several of the highest scoring games in program history over their all-time series. NAU has only had two 100-point scoring games in program history, the last of which came in a 101-29 drubbing of the Hornets in 2002. The only time that NAU has allowed 100 points since 1995 was when Sacramento State defeated NAU 104-98 in Flagstaff in 2010 in what was the second-highest scoring game in program history. Two of NAU's three highest scoring games last season came against the Hornets in a pair of Lumberjack wins, 83-64 and 82-77. Over the last five years (10 games), NAU has averaged 77.3 points per game against the Hornets, nearly 14 points per game better than its overall scoring average over that time (63.6).
Sacramento State enters Big Sky play having lost five of their last-six games after a four-game winning streak. The Hornets are the highest scoring team in the conference but also the worst defensive team in the Big Sky. Sacramento State averages a conference-best 73.8 points per game but is allowing 83.8 points per game, which ranks them 334th out of 336 division-I teams in opponent points per game. Junior forward Kylie Kuhns leads the nation with 12 double-doubles this season while averaging 14.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game. The Lumberjacks are 27-7 all-time vs the Hornets and swept Sacramento State in two games last season.
Northern Colorado has gone 4-1 at home this season and has won two consecutive games overall. The Bears will play one more non-conference game when they host Black Hills State on Thursday night. Whereas Sacramento State leads the Big Sky in scoring, Northern Colorado averages the fewest points in the conference at 59.1 points per game while allowing 63.1. Sophomore D'shara Strange leads the team with 13.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game and a Big Sky best 2.9 steals per game. She recorded the only triple-double in NCAA Division-I basketball this season with 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 steals in Bears' season opener at Bradley. NAU has lost four straight games against Northern Colorado and is 3-11 all-time against the Bears and just 1-6 in Greeley.