Opponent: Sacramento State (Thursday, Feb. 6/6:30 p.m.)
Location: Walkup Skydome - Flagstaff, Ariz.
Live Stats: www.nauathletics.com
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Through the first half of the conference schedule, the Northern Arizona women's basketball team is in a tie for ninth at 3-7 and will look to start their push towards moving into the top-seven and earning a Big Sky Championship berth with Sacramento State on Thursday in the Walkup Skydome at 6:30 p.m. The Lumberjacks have not qualified for the conference tournament since the 2008-09 season and has ground to make up in the final 10 games of the season to avoid a fifth straight tournament absence.
NAU earned a split on the road last week to wrap up the first half of the Big Sky slate with a 96-87 win at Weber State followed by a 82-72 loss at Idaho State. Senior Amanda Frost recorded her sixth and seventh consecutive 20-point games and junior Erikka Banks averaged 19.0 points per game between the two contests. Six players scored in double-figures in the win at Weber State, a season-best, but the Lumberjacks shot just 37.3 percent as a team in the loss at Idaho State.
Series History: Northern Arizona still owns a commanding 28-11 advantage in the all-time series with Sacramento State, but the Lumberjacks have lost the last three meetings to the Hornets. NAU is 14-4 all-time in Flagstaff versus Sacramento State and have won two of the last three at home.
The two teams met in Sacramento on Jan. 9, and the Hornets outgunned the Lumberjacks in the second half cruising to a 104-79 victory. Freshman Rene Coggins beat the first half buzzer with a three-pointer which tied the game at 43-43, but the Hornets shot 51.4 percent in the second half and outscored the Lumberjacks 61-36 in the final 20 minutes. Erikka Banks had a career-high 28 points as well as 11 rebounds for her third double-double of the season. Freshman Catelyn Preston made her first career start and posted a double-double also with 13 points, 10 rebounds as well as eight assists. Coggins (14 points) and Amanda Frost (12 points) also scored in double-figures, but NAU turned the ball over a season-high 35 times and played without junior Raven Anderson and freshman Brittani Lusain.
Wine Down & Play 4Kay: Thursday's game will have two ticket promotions. First, prior to the game, the team will host its 2nd Annual Wine Down with Women's Basketball event. A $5 ticket will get fans not only into the game, but also give them access to the pregame hospitality area where they will receive two drink vouchers (beer, wine and soda) in addition to chocolates, snacks and massages. The event requires pre-registration and will begin at 5:30 p.m.
The game will also be the team's Play 4Kay game in support of breast cancer awareness. Fans who wear pink to the game will receive a $3 discounted ticket. Pink rally towels and lanyards will be given out prior to the game.
For more information on the Wine Down event or Play 4Kay, click here or call 928-523-0639.
TV Coverage: Thursday's game will be televised by NAU-TV and broadcasted live on Fox Sports Arizona and on a tape delay basis on Fox College Sports Pacific at 11 p.m. The game will be shown live locally in Flagstaff on Suddenlink cable Channel 4 and online on the NAU-TV live web stream.
Coach Sue Darling Quote of the Week: "We're not where we want to be. We're coming off a road split, so we're happy about winning one on the road but I thought we could've won two. We've been talking about defense and that needs to improve. The next 10 days, we're really going to be focused on our defense and we plan on switching that 3-7 (record) to 7-3. This Thursday is a huge game for us and it'll be a great game to start this 10 game swing in the second half of Big Sky play."
About Sacramento State (14-5, 6-4 Big Sky): Sacramento State's win over NAU was its third straight to begin conference play, but since its 3-0 start, the high-octane Hornets are just 3-4. They have twice broken the Big Sky record for points in a game though including in a 111-104 win over Weber State last Saturday, two nights after they scored their lowest point total of the season in a 62-53 loss at Idaho State.
Balanced scoring continues to lead the second leading scoring team in the country at 89.6 per game as six players average at least 9.7 points per game led by senior Alle Moreno's 14.5, which ranks ninth in the conference. Six players scored in double-figures in the first meeting between NAU and Sacramento State led by 17 from freshman Hallie Gennett, who leads the conference in three-pointers made with 56. Junior Takara Burse had five of the team's 21 steals in the first meeting and leads the conference at 2.7 per game. As a team, the Hornets lead the conference in steals (14.5 per game) and turnover margin (+10.1) while forcing 24.3 turnovers per game. Opponents do shoot 52.2 percent against them, the worst opponent field goal percentage in the league.
Searching for Defense: The Lumberjacks have been one of the Big Sky's top offensive teams during league play ranking third in scoring offense (78.9 points per game), first in free-throw percentage (.781), first in field goal percentage (.453) and second in three-point percentage (.381). However NAU's problem has been on the defensive end as they are last in scoring defense (85.3 points per game), 10th in field goal percentage defense (.465) and 10th in three-point field goal percentage defense (.409).
NAU has cut down on its turnovers, turning it over 17.8 times in Big Sky games compared to 21.1 in non-conference games, but the Lumberjacks' defensive struggles have played a big role in its 3-7 conference mark through 10 games. The Lumberjacks have allowed 77 or more points in nine of their last 10 games, and defensive improvement will be critical in the final half of the conference schedule.
Freshmen at the Forefront: In their 96-87 win at Weber State last Thursday, the Lumberjacks had a season-high six players score in double-figures. Four of them were freshmen and several of them had career-games. Brittani Lusain had a career-high 21 points and shot 9-of-9 from the free-throw line to equal Amanda Frost for the team-lead. Avonna Lee came off the bench to hit a career-best three three-pointers en route to 11 points, her best total of the season, and Rene Coggins also had 11 points while recording career-bests in rebounds (5), assists (5) and steals (4). Priscilla Brooks had nine points in the victory, her highest output since Dec. 14.
Like NAU Women's Basketball on Facebook
Follow NAU Women's Basketball on Twitter