Women’s Basketball Looking for Road, Big Sky Success in Montana
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The NAU women's basketball team (5-11, 0-4 BSC) returns to the road this week looking for its first road and Big Sky wins, playing at 7 p.m. Thursday at Montana (8-7, 1-1 BSC) and at 2 p.m. Saturday at Montana State (9-6, 1-2 BSC). Montana and Montana State were both picked to finish in the top four in both the media and coaches' Big Sky preseason polls, but begin the week in sixth and seventh place in the conference standings, respectively.
"We need to communicate better; we're quiet on the floor and we aren't working as a unit on either side of the ball, and that's where we need to refocus to get ready for this week," said NAU head coach Laurie Kelly. "It doesn't get any easier going to Montana and Montana State, which I think is the hardest road trip in the league. I still think this is a great basketball team. We're really being challenged right now and in a slump, and we really have to work hard to get out of it."
After starting the season 5-4, with three of their losses on the road against teams that have a combined 31-9 record this season (Colorado, Iowa State, and South Dakota), the Lumberjacks have dropped their last-seven contests. Despite forcing two opponents - No. 15 Nebraska and Sacramento State - to double overtime, NAU has been outscored by an average of 12.1 points per game during the streak and are allowing 17.1 more points per game during the streak than they were before it (63.8 to 80.9).
The Lumberjack's opponent field goal percentage has gone from .414 prior to the losing streak to .450 during the slide, while their opponent three-point percentage has gone from .341 to .402. After being +6.3 in rebounding margin during its 5-4 start, NAU is -4.0 in rebounding margin in its last-seven games. NAU has actually made more field goals than its opponents during the stretch, but has been outscored 147-66 from the free throw line.
After totaling 28 steals in two games last week, NAU leads the Big Sky and is tied for 19th in NCAA Division-I women's basketball with 12.5 steals per game. The Lumberjacks have recorded at least nine steals in every game this season and recorded a season-best 18 thefts in their home win against Kent State and against Portland State. NAU has eight players with double-digit steals this season and four with 25 or more steals for the year, led by 33 thefts from junior Amy Patton. Senior Caty Huntington has 29 season steals and ranks eighth in NAU program history with 175 career steals.
Patton recorded one of the best shooting games in program history vs Eastern Washington on Saturday, going 11-of-12 from the field in scoring a team season-high 27 points, nearly half of the team's total points in the contest. She went 3-of-3 from three-point range and 2-of-2 from the free throw line while also leading the team with seven rebounds and three steals. She has been among the best players in the Big Sky during conference play, ranking third with 19.5 points per game, fourth with 4.5 assists per game, and seventh with 9.0 rebounds per game during conference play.
With over 13 years of head coaching experience, Laurie Kelly will celebrate a milestone this week. When NAU plays at Montana on Thursday, Kelly will be coaching her 400th overall game as a collegiate head coach. Kelly has coached the most games in program history and is the program's all-time leader in wins and postseason wins. She is in her ninth season at NAU since taking over as the head coach in 2003 after a successful five year run as the head coach of Binghamton. She also reached another milestone this year when the Lumberjacks faced Nebraska on Dec. 10., when she coached her 250th game at NAU.
After finishing fourth in the Big Sky during the regular season last year, Montana won three games to win the Big Sky Championship and advance to the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to UCLA, 55-47. The squad went 7-6 in non-conference play and has only played two conference games so far, winning at Eastern Washington and losing at home to Idaho State last Saturday. Montana has played the lowest scoring games in the conference this season, ranking last in offense, scoring 60.1 points per game, but first in defense, allowing 56.4 points per game. NAU is 10-43 all-time vs Montana and just 3-25 in Missoula, having not defeated the Grizzlies on the road since 2007.
Montana State returned three starters this year after going 11-5 in the Big Sky and finishing third in the conference last season. The Bobcats lead the Big Sky in field goal percentage (.429), scoring margin (+7.0), and assist/turnover ratio (1.0). Montana State split its conference opening weekend, winning at Portland State and losing at Eastern Washington, before losing at home to Idaho State last Saturday. The team went 8-4 in non-conference play, losing just 63-49 to No. 13 Georgia, and defeating Utah State 78-61 (who defeated NAU, 73-56). NAU holds a 20-34 record all-time against Montana State and has lost its last-three meetings with the Bobcats.