FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona women's basketball team weathered two figurative punches to the mouth, but the third proved to be the knockout blow as the Lumberjacks were unable to overcome a New Mexico State blitz to open the second half on Sunday. The Aggies ripped off three consecutive three-pointers to start the third quarter to put away a pesky NAU team in an eventual 79-68 victory, sending the Lumberjacks to 4-5 this season.
"I was proud of our team's effort," said interim head coach Robyne Bostick. "We fell behind early and we never gave up. Being down 10 to start the game and to get it down to five at halftime says a lot about our team's ability to stay composed under pressure. In the third quarter when we got down, we still never gave up on the game."
New Mexico State, the two-time defending WAC champions and NCAA Tournament participants, was a thorn to NAU's side all afternoon in the Rolle Activity Center with the Aggies shooting above 53 percent in each quarter and converting at a 57.1 percent clip for the entire game from the field. The Aggies owned the paint on Sunday, driving and powering their way to a 44-14 advantage, and negating 11 Lumberjack three-pointers.
"Defensively knew we had to communicate a lot to defend them and we have to work on our defense," Bostick said. "Our defense has been pretty good, but today we just did not execute the way we wanted to. We gave up too many points in the paint, so we'll work on that over the next week (to prepare for Grand Canyon)."
Three Lumberjacks finished in double-digits with senior Rene Coggins pacing the way with 14 points. She continued her torrid three-point shooting by making 4-of-7 attempts and was 5-for-9 overall. Off the bench, senior Catelyn Preston and sophomore Kaleigh Paplow each scored 11 points to lead an NAU reserve attack which outscored New Mexico State's bench, 34-24. For Preston, the 11 points marked her season-high and first double-figure scoring game of the campaign.
NAU dug itself a hole with New Mexico State racing out to a 10-0 lead in the game's first four minutes. After the Aggies missed two shots on the game's opening possession, they knocked down their next eight before misfiring. Yet Preston's seven first quarter points helped keep the Lumberjacks within striking distance, and redshirt junior Olivia Lucero accounted for the quarter's final four points as NAU trailed just 20-17 after one period.
New Mexico State then jumped on NAU with the first six points of the second quarter to push its advantage back out to nine. However, the Lumberjacks managed a counter-punch with an 8-0 run that brought the 'Jacks within one, 28-27, with four minutes remaining before the intermission. The Aggies once again though extended their lead to eight before senior Taylor Leyva closed the first half with a three to send NAU into halftime down just 37-32 despite New Mexico State shooting 59.2 percent.
The Lumberjacks stayed within striking distance in the first half due to six three-pointers, but they went cold from the field in the third quarter shooting just 4-of-16 in the decisive period. Like they had to open the first two quarters, New Mexico State struck early with three triples – after not attempting one in the entire first half – and the Aggies was in cruise control from there. The 9-0 second half opening run gave the visitors their biggest lead, 46-32, and their lead never dipped below nine the rest of the way.
After being outscored 24-13 in the third quarter, the 'Jacks responded by winning the fourth quarter by five points in large part due to 63.6 percent shooting. Coggins drained all three of her attempts from long distance in the final period, but New Mexico State's third-quarter run proved to be the dagger.
Not to be overlooked, the Lumberjacks held a commanding advantage on the glass, 34-26, and used 15 offensive rebounds to post a 21-6 edge in second chance points. Senior Brittani Lusain grabbed a game-high nine rebounds with Paplow pulling down six off the bench.
NAU finished with a 40.4 field goal percentage and 39.3 percent from behind the arc. The Lumberjacks were also 11-for-14 from the charity stripe, but the Aggies' offensive efficiency – including a perfect 11-for-11 effort at the line – was more than enough to hand the 'Jacks defeat in their final home game of the 2016 calendar year.
The Lumberjacks will now close the non-conference portion of the schedule on the road with a pair of games. After a week off for finals, NAU will take on in-state rival Grand Canyon in Phoenix on Monday, Dec. 19 at noon. Two days later, the 'Jacks will face Utah on Dec. 21.