FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Northern Arizona outshot Montana 42.2% to 35.2% and held the Lady Griz to just 28% shooting in the second half, but Montana had a 39-29 rebounding advantage with 15 offensive rebounds and senior Katie Baker scored a game-high 26 points to lead the Lady Griz to a 59-51 win on Thursday in the Walkup Skydome.
Paired with a 71-58 Southern Utah win over Northern Colorado, the Lumberjacks (8-20, 7-12 Big Sky) dropped one game behind the Thunderbirds as the two teams battle for the final qualifying spot for the Big Sky Championship. NAU will need to defeat Montana State on Saturday and have Southern Utah lose to North Dakota to make the postseason tournament.
"They outrebounded us by 10 and those 10 were on the offensive end, and when we were in position to take a lead we gave up two or three offensive rebounds at a time," NAU head coach Sue Darling said. "I thought we did a really nice job pressuring the ball; we forced them to take bad shots in the second half but they were able to get two and three shots at the basket and that was a killer. In a game like this it's the team that makes the fewest mistakes that wins, and they made fewer mistakes."
The teams made the exact same number of field goals in the game (19) but the Lady Griz connected on two more 3-pointers and were plus six at the free-throw line. Neither team shot well from the line, as NAU went 10-of-19 and UM went 16-of-25, but it was a 10-2 advantage for Montana in second chance points that proved to be the difference in the game.
The win clinched the regular season Big Sky title for the Lady Griz as they improved to 16-3 in the conference and 22-6 overall and will serve as host for the Big Sky Championship next week.
Baker scored her 26 points on 10-of-20 shooting while no other Lady Griz player scored more than seven points. Seniors Amy Patton and Paige Haynes paced the Lumberjacks with 12 points apiece, with Patton adding seven rebounds and four steals, while sophomore Erikka Banks totaled 10 points and a game-high eight rebounds off the bench.
The Lumberjacks started the night strong, turning an early 8-7 lead into a game-best six point advantage at 13-7 with 12:03 remaining in the first half. Montana responded with five straight points and eventually leveled the score at 15-15 as the game remained even to a 22-22 tie with just over five minutes left in the opening half. The Lady Griz went on a run from there, using a 10-2 spurt to go up by eight before taking a 34-26 advantage into the break.
NAU cut its deficit down to three points five minutes into the second half and kept the game close, trailing by just two points at 45-43 with 8:20 left to play. The Lumberjacks would not get any closer, however, as Montana used a 9-1 run over the next five minutes to build a game best 54-44 lead.
The home team would be held without a field goal for more than seven minutes before a 3-pointer by Haynes with one minute remaining brought the Lumberjacks back within five points at 54-49. With NAU forced to foul Montana made five of six free-throw attempts to maintain its lead before a last second layup by Haynes brought the final total to 59-51.
"We have to keep improving to be better Saturday than we were today," Darling said. "Montana State is a really good offensive rebounding team and they're very physical. We'll work a lot on our offense and rebounding but I'm not worried. We have quality kids on this team and we have a strong desire to get to that Big Sky tournament."
Saturday's regular season finale will tip at 12:05 p.m. in the Walkup Skydome. Seniors Haynes, Patton, Aubrey Davis, and Tyler Stephens-Jenkins as well as graduating junior Patricia Gortarez will be honored prior to their final home game.