FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – For the ninth consecutive season the NAU women's basketball team (0-4) will host its annual Hilton Garden Inn Thanksgiving Tournament on Friday and Saturday in Rolle Activity Center.
The Lumberjacks will open play at 2:05 p.m. Friday against Western Michigan (1-2) before Bradley (2-2) and Tulane (3-0) meet at 4:05 p.m. The two winning teams from Friday's games will meet for the tournament championship at 4:05 p.m. Saturday after the losing teams from Friday play for third place at 2:05 p.m. Admission to all sessions is FREE with the donation of canned goods/non-pershible items to support those families in need during the holiday season.
"We're excited to be back home," NAU head coach Sue Darling said. "The tournament always means a lot to our team and this community so we're happy to have a couple of games in a row and we're very excited about the teams coming in. We're looking forward to playing again; we feel that we still have some work to do and this is another opportunity to prove ourselves. We've been working a lot on our defense this week and I think that will be the difference in these games."
NAU has not been lacking for offense as the Lumberjacks are shooting 42.6% from the field so far this season to lead the Big Sky. The team has shot 40% or better in all four of its games including a 47.3% clip against CSU Bakersfield. The team has five players shooting 40% or better this season including guards Amy Patton, Tyler Stephens-Jenkins, and Paige Haynes while center Aubrey Davis is shooting 51.6%. NAU is also shooting 71.1% from the free throw line so far this season after shooting 61% on free throws last year and is third in the Big Sky in shooting 30.6% from three-point range.
NAU's 79-75 double-overtime loss at Nebraska Omaha on Sunday was historic along many fronts. As a team NAU tied the program record with 12 three-pointers, including a banked three by Davis at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. The Lumberjacks' 32 three-point attempts in the game broke the program record, surpassing the previous high of 28 three-point attempts totaled in three previous games, while NAU played its third double-overtime game in the last two seasons after having played in just one such game through the first 37 years of the program's existence.
Individually, Stephens-Jenkins tied the program record originally set by Marissa von Bromssen against Monmouth in 1996 with eight three-point makes. She, Haynes, and sophomore Jasmine Sneed all played the entire 50 minutes of the game to break the previous record for minutes played in a game of 48 set by Megan Porter against Eastern Washington in 2005 in what had been the only double-ot game in program history before last year.
Stephens-Jenkins hit her eight threes in just 16 attempts to shoot 50% from long range and 10-20 overall in the game in totaling a career-high 28 points while also adding 11 rebounds and a career-high six assists. Sunday's performance came after Stephens-Jenkins returned after missing a game and a half due to injury to lead NAU with 16 points against No. 15 Nebraska while connecting on four three-pointers in that game. For the weekend she totaled 44 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and four steals and made 12 three-pointers while shooting 12-of-27 (.444) from three-point range and 15-of-35 (.429) overall.
Patton continues to lead the Big Sky in scoring and is now averaging 22.3 points per game. She totaled 62 points in her first two games of the season and added 27 points last week to bring her career scoring to 1,527 points and put her second in career scoring in program history. She needs just 151 more points to reach NAU's all-time scoring record held by 2012 NAU Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Alyssa Wahl.
Western Michigan comes to Flagstaff with a 1-2 record this season having defeated American University and lost to Milwaukee and Albany. The Broncos went 8-22 overall last season and were 5-11 in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) to finish fifth in the West division of the conference. The team returned 10 of 11 letter winners this season including its lone senior Aurielle Anderson, who is averaging 13.0 points per game this season while shooting 51.6% from the field. The team is +3.0 in turnover margin thus far, forcing 21.3 turnovers per game with 11 steals per game. Northern Arizona and Western Michigan have never before met in women's basketball.
Tulane begins the week undefeated with wins over Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Monroe, and Southern and this week will be playing its only games outside of the state of Louisiana until January 13. The team is coming off a trip to the Women's NIT last season in which it defeated Mississippi Valley State before losing to Texas Tech. The Green Wave was 23-11 overall last season and went 9-7 in Conference USA to tie for third. Tulane is outshooting its opponents 44.4% to 36.7% this season and is +12.3 in scoring margin and +7.7 in rebounding margin. A meeting between NAU and Tulane would be the first in program history.
Bradley is the only team competing in the tournament that NAU has ever faced before, as the teams met in NAU's Thanksgiving Tournament in 2008 in an 83-66 Bradley win. A member of the Missouri Valley conference, the Braves also competed in the postseason last year in the Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI) where they defeated Tennessee Tech before losing to Minnesota. The Braves are 2-2 so far this season including an 83-77 win at Illinois and a loss on Tuesday at South Florida. Junior Catie O'Leary, a transfer from Wisconsin, is leading the team with 11.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.