Women’s Basketball Heads North to Open Crucial Road Trip
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Following a 2-1 home stand, the NAU women's basketball team (7-14, 2-7 BSC) travels to the Pacific Northwest this week for Big Sky road games at Eastern Washington (13-9, 7-2 BSC) at 7 p.m. Thursday and at Portland State (11-9, 3-5 BSC) at 3 p.m. Saturday. The two games are part of four consecutive road contests for the Lumberjacks, their final road conference games of the season.
"Hopefully the confidence, energy, and focus we've had in practice will build to this four-game stretch," NAU head coach Laurie Kelly said. "We all know that we're climbing up hill right now and it's essential that we don't give any games away. We started off bad at 1-7 and we need to try to be 7-1 in the second half of conference play."
The Lumberjacks won their first game of the second half of Big Sky play last Saturday, breaking the program record with 59 first half points against Sacramento State en route to a 94-56 win. The 59 first half points scored eclipsed the previous school record for points in a half of 58, set against Idaho State in 2008, and were more points than the team totaled in seven games this season. The early offensive onslaught gave the Lumberjacks a 35-point halftime lead, as 11 different Lumberjacks scored at least two points to contribute to the program record point total.
NAU's win over the Hornets was also fueled by rebounding and defense. The Lumberjacks posted a 58-34 rebounding edge for the game with 23 offensive rebounds, enabling the team to attempt 17 more shots in the game than their opponent – with the team finishing with 17 more made field goals. NAU also totaled a season-high 21 steals, tied for the fifth best single game steals mark in program history, and forced 28 Hornet turnovers. The steals total moved NAU's season average to 12.3 steals per game, the 19th best steals average in NCAA Division-I.
Junior Tyler Stephens-Jenkins had been mired in a shooting slump before a superb performance against Sacramento State. She connected on 7-of-9 shots against the Hornets, including 3-of-5 shots from three-point range, to finish with a team-high 18 points as well as a season-high seven rebounds. Stephens-Jenkins had shot 2-for-12 in her two previous games and had shot below 30% from the field in seven of her eight previous games. She came out firing with 14 first half points on 6-of-7 shooting to lead NAU's program-record first half point total, giving the team the vital scoring threat that she has been throughout her Lumberjack career.
Eastern Washington has been a surprise contender this season in Big Sky play after being predicted to finish towards the bottom of the Big Sky table. The Eagles begin the week at 7-2 in conference play, and are 5-0 in Big Sky road games but just 2-2 in conference home games. On Jan. 7 in Flagstaff, the Eagles forced 20 first half turnovers and built a 35-20 halftime advantage, leading by as many as 30 points in a 74-56 win over NAU. Senior Brianne Ryan, who leads the Big Sky in averaging 18.5 points per game this season, led four Eagles in double-figures with 20 points in that game, while NAU's Amy Patton had one of the best games of her career in going 11-of-12 from the field and totaling 27 points. NAU has not won at Eastern Washington since 2007.
Portland State was the preseason coaches and media pick to win the Big Sky but currently sits in sixth place at 3-5 in conference play. After opening Big Sky play at 3-1, the Vikings have dropped four consecutive games, with all the losses by eight or more points. The Vikings shot 65% and held NAU to 26% shooting in the first half when the teams met on Jan. 5, as PSU took a 45-25 halftime lead and held on for an 84-74 win. Sophomore Kate Lanz totaled 29 points and 11 rebounds in that game and ranks second in the Big Sky with 16.8 points per game this season. As a team Portland State ranks third in the country with a .809 free throw percentage and also leads the Big Sky in three-point percentage and three-point defense. The Lumberjacks last won in Portland in 2006.