FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona women's basketball team (4-14, 3-6 Big Sky) concludes the first half of conference play at 8 p.m. Arizona time Thursday at Sacramento State (10-8, 5-4 Big Sky). The game will be NAU's third straight contest on the road as the team plays five of six games away from Flagstaff in five different states and three different time zones over a three week period.
"Obviously our goal is to play well vs. Sacramento State; we did not play well on the road at Northern Colorado and we did not play well vs. North Dakota," NAU head coach Sue Darling said. "We have to get back, first and foremost, to playing well, which for us means playing hard and playing together. When we play hard and play together we can beat anybody in the league. It's a matter of having the gumption and the where-with-all to stick with what we're doing and to do it a little bit better."
NAU's nine Big Sky games played thus far can be divided into three distinct categories of three: three double-digit wins, three double-digit losses, and three close games. Three wins (Southern Utah, Eastern Washington, Weber State) have come by an average of 15.3 points; three losses (Montana State, Northern Colorado, North Dakota) have come by an average of 17.3 points; and three games came down to the final minutes.
With the double-digit wins and losses balancing out, the three close games have shaped NAU's fortunes thus far. Unfortunately the team has dropped each of those three games, losing in overtime at Montana, losing on a last-second free-throw vs. Portland State, and losing by just four points to Idaho State. NAU would be 6-3 if those three close games had gone in their favor, and with the second half of conference play approaching success in any ensuing close games could determine the team's Big Sky fate.
After breaking NAU's all-time scoring record, senior Amy Patton is now just 30 rebounds away from breaking NAU's all-time rebounding mark. She moved past former NAU player and assistant coach Laura Dinkins for second all-time in career rebounds against Weber State and her 742 career boards trail only the NAU all-time record of 771 career rebounds held by Alyssa Wahl, who Patton surpassed to take the all-time scoring mark. If Patton sticks to her season average of 8.0 boards per game, she would break the program rebounding record in four more games, which would come Feb. 9 at Eastern Washington.
Patton also tied Alyssa Wahl's NAU record 678 career field goals made against North Dakota and will break that record with her next basket. She is nine 3-point makes behind Kim Winkfield's NAU career 3-pointers record and is now sixth in program history with 199 career steals, needing just five more steals to move to fifth.
Sacramento State has consistently been the highest scoring team in the Big Sky and is again this season, averaging 71.9 points per game to rank 25th in the NCAA in scoring. The Hornets also lead the Big Sky and rank fifth in the country with 6.3 blocks per game and are 19th in the NCAA with 16.4 assists per game while also leading the conference in 3-point field goals made and steals. The team is second to last in the league in points allowed and rebounding margin but is +3.3 in turnover margin.
The Hornets have won four of their last six games after starting conference play at 1-2 and are 6-1 at home this season with their only home loss to Idaho State. The team was also 5-4 in nonconference play including an overtime win at Oregon State. Senior Megan Kritscher leads the Big Sky and ranks fourth in the NCAA with 3.7 blocks per game while sophomore Fantasia Hilliard leads the league with 6.7 assist per game and senior Kylie Kuhns leads with 10.5 rebounds per game along with 12.0 points. NAU is 28-8 all-time against Sacramento State after the teams split two games last season, with the Lumberjacks scoring a 94-56 win when the teams last met in Flagstaff.
Thursday's game at Sacramento State will be broadcast live on 105.1 FM The Big Talker throughout northern Arizona and online on bigtalkerradio.com with NAU Assistant Media Relations Director Andrew Tomsky providing the play-by-play.