Opponent: Montana (Thursday, Jan. 2/6:30 p.m.)
Opponent: Montana State (Saturday Jan. 4/6:30 p.m.)
Location: Walkup Skydome - Flagstaff, Ariz.
Live Stats: www.nauathletics.com
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Following a 3-6 mark through nonconference play, the Northern Arizona women's basketball team now turns their eyes toward the prize as the Big Sky portion of the schedule is in front of them. Picked to finish 10th in the preseason Big Sky polls, the Lumberjacks are motivated to prove the skeptics wrong beginning this week at home. NAU will open conference play Thursday against Montana, the defending Big Sky champions, and will close out the week on Saturday against Montana State with both games in the Skydome.
The Lumberjacks hope to not only start the conference season on a high note, but they also will aim to snap a three-game losing streak which includes a narrow 78-72 loss to LIU Brooklyn Monday night. NAU's second half rally led by senior Amanda Frost, who scored a team-high 22 points, came up just short as the Lumberjacks were able to tie the game on a number of occasions following a 13-point deficit. Junior Raven Anderson added 15 points and a season-high nine rebounds, while freshman Brittani Lusain totaled 11 points and junior Erikka Banks chipped in eight points and 10 rebounds.
Series History: NAU has won just 11 of the 58 all-time meetings versus Montana and has posted just two victories in the series dating back to the 2007-08 season. The Lumberjacks dropped both meetings versus the Lady Griz last season, but the losses were both by eight points each. NAU fell in overtime in Missoula, 79-71, and then were defeated 59-51 at home in the final weekend of the regular season.
The Lumberjacks are 21-37 all-time versus Montana State and like they did with Montana, they were defeated by the Bobcats in both meetings a year ago. Montana State extended their win streak to seven games between the two schools, first with a 69-52 victory in Bozeman. The second meeting in Flagstaff in NAU's season finale came down to the final seconds as MSU edged out a 68-66 victory.
Coach Sue Darling Quote of the Week: "We ended up 3-6 in the nonconference during the first half of our season and obviously that's not quite the results we wanted but we ended up tripling what we did from last year at this time of year. We've made significant process but we're still hungry for more. I believe our nonconference season prepared us for our conference season and we have two good teams coming into town this weekend. We'll be ready all the way around."
About Montana (6-3, 0-0 Big Sky): Montana begins conference play with a 6-3 mark but will enter Thursday's game having not played a game since Dec. 17. The Lady Griz dropped their final two nonconference games to Temple and Wyoming after winning six of their first seven. The defending conference champions were picked second in both of the Big Sky preseason polls.
The Lady Griz have found a lot of success on the defensive end as they lead the Big Sky by allowing just 58.8 points per game and holding their opponents to a Big Sky best .357 field goal percentage. Junior Carly Selvig has been a big part of UM's defensive dominance with 2.7 blocks per game, which ranks second in the conference. Senior Torry Hill averages a team-best 12.7 points per game and ranks fifth in the Big Sky in both assists (4.3 per game) and steals (2.4 per game) while averaging 2.8 threes per contest, tied for third in the conference.
About Montana State (5-4, 0-0 Big Sky): Montana State wrapped up nonconference play with a victory over Carroll College on Dec. 20, a win which snapped a two-game losing streak. The Bobcats began the season by winning three of their first four including a season-opening victory over Cal State Northridge, whom the Lumberjacks lost to on Dec. 19. MSU was picked fourth in both of the Big Sky preseason polls.
Senior Ashley Brumwell leads the Bobcats in scoring with 12.1 points as well as rebounding (5.4 per game) and blocks (1.9 per game). Her block average is fourth-best in the conference and she leads a strong team rebounding effort. As a team, MSU ranks fourth in the conference in rebounding as Brumwell is one of six players averaging at least four boards per game. Junior Kalli Durham averages a team-best 2.0 steals per game as the Bobcats are fourth in the Big Sky in steals.
Now Is When It Matters Most: Their 3-6 nonconference record may not have been what the Lumberjacks envisioned during the regular season, but if the first nine games of the season are any indication, they could surprise the Big Sky. NAU showed flashes of brilliance on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court during nonconference play. The Lumberjacks finished their nonconference schedule second in the Big Sky in field goal percentage (.431) and third in steals (9.7 per game). They shot better than 40 percent in six games including a blistering 56.9 percent against UC Santa Barbara and 59.2 percent against UT Arlington - both of which were victories. If they can put all the pieces together, this young Lumberjacks crew could wind up being a team to be wreckoned with.
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