SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – A strong fourth quarter did not even out three lackluster quarters for the Northern Arizona women's basketball team on Friday, as they suffered their first loss of the season, 58-53, at Cal Poly. The Lumberjacks struggled all night long in the Mott Athletics Center shooting just 31.7 percent from the field and 20 percent from behind the arc in seeing their two-game win streak to start the season come to an end.
"For the most part, I'm really proud of the way the team fought to cut it to three in the fourth quarter," said interim head coach Robyne Bostick. "We were a little more aggressive and ran in transition and that got us back into the game. Our defense was good, other than our fouls, and Cal Poly didn't shoot a high percentage. If we could've kept them off the line, it might've been a better game for us."
Redshirt junior Olivia Lucero tried her best to will the Lumberjacks back into the game in the final period in which they entered behind 47-30 on the scoreboard. With eight of her 13 points in the fourth quarter paving NAU's comeback effort, the Lumberjacks cut their sizeable 17-point deficit to just three with 1:52 remaining but could not close any further. Lucero also collected a game-high 13 rebounds in her first double-double of the season.
Behind Lucero's 13 boards and eight each from senior Catelyn Preston and sophomore Kaleigh Paplow, NAU won the rebounding battle, 50-42, including 16 on the offensive glass. Furthermore, the Lumberjacks actually outshot the Mustangs – who themselves were just 26.6 percent for the game overall. However, a plus-13 margin at the free throw line and plus-five on points off turnovers proved to be crucial to Cal Poly.
After trailing by just five despite dismal shooting performances by both teams in the first half, NAU was outscored 22-10 in the third quarter as Cal Poly found a rhythm. Yet, NAU quickly came out firing to start the final period with redshirt junior Kenna McDavis spurring a 7-0 run in the first 9-0 seconds with five points. The quick strike by the Lumberjacks immediately forced a Mustang timeout with their lead sliced to 47-37.
NAU slowly chipped away and following a Paplow layup and a second-chance three-pointer by Lucero, the Lumberjacks trailed 54-51 with just under two minutes to play. However after Cal Poly airballed a three-pointer on the ensuing possession, Preston's three-point attempt hit the front of the rim with 21 remaining. The Mustangs proceeded to hit two free throws after being fouled and made two more with seven seconds left to stave off the Lumberjacks' rally.
While the first half was marred with missed shots by both teams, the Lumberjacks' 18 turnovers were highly detrimental. NAU went into halftime down 25-20 despite the fact that Cal Poly shot only 7-for-36 from the field and that the 'Jacks outrebounded the Mustangs by 11.
The Lumberjacks could not take advantage of the Mustangs' struggles as they shot just 7-for-24 and their minus-13 in the turnover category led to an 11-1 advantage in points of turnovers for the home team. Cal Poly also shot 12 free throws to just NAU's five and made 11 of those attempts before the half.
Cal Poly then came out and more than tripled its halftime lead by shooting 61.5 percent in the third quarter while NAU made only 3-of-20 attempts.
"We had a couple of offensive fouls to start the game and then we started to force things which led to more turnovers," Bostick said. "It's one thing when we're not hitting our shots, but when we turned the ball over it compounded. We fouled a little much in the first half and those three things are not a good combination. Then Cal Poly shot the ball well in the third quarter, and we didn't hit the shots we needed to."
McDavis finished with nine points and Paplow finished with seven, but no other Lumberjack scored more than five points.
After NAU committed 18 turnovers in the first half, it had just three in the second half but like its fourth quarter comeback, it was not enough to squeak out a third straight win to open the 2016-17 season.
The Lumberjacks conclude the weekend Sunday at UC Santa Barbara at 3 p.m. Arizona time.