SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Despite a strong performance by senior Brittani Lusain, the Northern Arizona women's basketball team dropped a tough 60-51 decision to UC Santa Barbara Sunday afternoon in the Thunderdome to fall to 2-2 this season. Lusain recorded 17 points, nine rebounds and three steals, but shaky free throw shooting down the stretch hurt the Lumberjacks' chances to earn a weekend split of their California road trip.
"Down the stretch today when it was close, we had opportunities to cut into the lead and be in a better position in the last minute, but we missed four or five free throws in a row," said interim head coach Robyne Bostick. "We shot only 13-of-22 from the line and UC Santa Barbara was 12-for-14. A lot of the mistakes we are making right now are correctable. We have to make our free throws and take care of the ball a little better."
A 59.1 percent showing from the charity stripe did not aid NAU's cause as it struggled as a team from the field for the second straight game. The Lumberjacks made only four of their 17 attempts from long distance and overall only converted on 32.1 percent of their field goal tries in the loss. Meanwhile, the Gauchos shot 42.3 percent from the field and were an efficient 85.7 percent at the line.
Lusain was the one Lumberjack who did not struggle for the most part on Sunday pouring in 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Redshirt junior Kenna McDavis knocked down two of NAU's four three-pointers on the afternoon and finished with a season-high 12 points.
Facing a noticeable size disadvantage, the Lumberjacks more than held their own on the glass though, outrebounding the Gauchos, 38-33. In addition to Lusain's nine boards, McDavis, redshirt junior Olivia Lucero and sophomore Kaleigh Paplow all totaled five boards apiece in NAU's strong rebounding effort. Overall, NAU has held the rebounding advantage in its last three games.
"Getting to the boards is something we've been working on in practice," Bostick said. "We know that is something that will be a big key for us. Rebounding will help keep us in games and put ourselves in a position to win. Our guards have been rebounding the ball well, Kenna is getting better and Bradlee Cotton always does a good job boxing out."
Lusain and McDavis both scored seven points in the first quarter, combining for 14 of NAU's 16 points in the first 10 minutes. The 'Jacks took a 16-13 lead into the second period, but endured a scoring drought of nearly eight minutes spanning the two quarters before McDavis broke through with a free throw at the 4:17 remaining before the half. In that time though, the Gauchos could not take advantage of the Lumberjacks' woes and the two teams went into halftime tied at 25-25.
Senior Taylor Leyva tied the game at 36-all with under three minutes left in the third quarter with a three-ball, but a crucial 7-1 UCSB run to close the period was costly for NAU. Still, the Lumberjacks managed to hang around and were within one at 51-50 following a pair of Paplow free throws.
Unfortunately, that is where NAU's off night at the free throw line cost it a chance at victory as the Lumberjacks only made one of their final six attempts in the final three minutes. UCSB sealed the deal going 4-for-4 within the last 14 seconds and ultimately finished the game on a 9-1 run.
The Lumberjacks will not have much time to shake off the loss as they will be right back on the road on Wednesday at Lamar in Beaumont, Texas. The game will start at 6 p.m. Arizona time and can be seen online at ESPN 3.