CEDAR CITY, Utah – The Northern Arizona women's basketball team refused to go into 2017 on a low note, and behind the heroics of redshirt junior Olivia Lucero and monumental contributions from a number of players, the Lumberjacks ended 2016 with a bang. By the end of Saturday's New Year's Eve matinee, NAU's three-point fireworks were on full display as the 'Jacks derailed Southern Utah, 77-68, in overtime to prevail in their conference opener.
"It was great to see how our team fought back and I'm glad that we were not only able to get over the hump, but come out of a close game with a win," said interim head coach Robyne Bostick. "I've said all season long that I liked our team's depth and it was really great to see different people step up at different times today."
The win was NAU's first conference opening road victory in a decade and just the third time in program history that it has started out Big Sky play 1-0 away from Flagstaff. The win also snapped NAU's three-game overall losing streak and 10-game Big Sky road skid. It also marked the Lumberjacks' first win in Cedar City since 2013 and first overtime road win since 2008.
To do so, NAU (5-7 overall) posted its largest deficit in victory this season and earned its first overtime win since Feb. 26, 2014. The Lumberjacks trailed by as much as a dozen in the second quarter and received double-digit scoring games from freshman Raina Perez (18), Lucero (16), redshirt junior Kenna McDavis (14) and sophomore Kaleigh Paplow (11).
NAU found itself behind, 63-60, in the waning seconds of regulation before Lucero drilled a three-pointer from about 35 feet straight away to tie the game at 63-all with 2.2 seconds on the clock. A last second heave by SUU failed, and the Lumberjacks took care of business in the extra session outscoring the Thunderbirds, 14-5, led by eight points from Paplow.
"Obviously Olivia Lucero hit a big shot to send the game into overtime," Bostick said. "Kenna McDavis hit some big shots and she shot well in the first half. In the third quarter, we had a couple of players hit shots that put us in a good position. Raina Perez scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and Kaleigh Paplow had eight in overtime. Even Peyton Carroll came in and contributed despite not playing a lot of minutes (to this point)."
Southern Utah shot 52.9 percent in the game's first 10 minutes to aid a 21-11 lead after the first quarter. The Thunderbird lead grew to 12 in the second quarter, but McDavis' third three-pointer of the opening half sent NAU into the intermission down, 36-30. The 'Jacks remained in striking distance despite shooting 34.4 percent in the first half in large part because of six makes from long distance.
NAU continued to play from behind in the third quarter and went into the fourth quarter down one, 48-47, on Carroll's offensive putback. Carroll, appearing in her first game in over a month, came off the bench to score a season-best seven points.
Perez then found the hot hand in the fourth quarter, scoring NAU's first eight points of the period. Her three-pointer on the opening possession of the quarter gave the 'Jacks their first lead of the game, 50-48. The T-Birds eventually regained a four-point advantage before another Perez three brought NAU within one at 61-60 with 1:28 on the clock. Following two Southern Utah free throws, Lucero received the inbound and nailed the equalizer, immediately silencing the Centrum Arena crowd.
The hot hand transferred to Paplow in overtime as six straight points provided NAU with the final lead change of the game, 71-65, with 2:45 left in the extra period. The 'Jacks would close with a perfect 6-for-6 showing at the free throw line to ice the game in the final minute.
"It was a big environment," said Perez, who set a new collegiate-best in points. "In college, it's a different game with bigger and stronger girls. You have to work as a team to get a win and today was really big. To get a win to start conference and go into the new year, it'll help us a lot."
Like Perez, McDavis also set a new season-best scoring output. Perez, McDavis and Lucero all hit four three-pointers as NAU matched its season-high of 12 made threes. The Lumberjacks were plus-30 in points from behind the arc, which along with a plus-eight advantage in points of turnovers helped offset a 51-36 Thunderbird rebounding edge.
NAU was also plus-11 in the turnover column with Southern Utah committing 24 turnovers and made the most of their opportunities at the line converting on 15-of-16 attempts.
The 'Jacks will return home for their first two conference games in the Walkup Skydome this upcoming week. NAU hosts North Dakota on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. followed by Northern Colorado next Saturday at 2 p.m. Both UND and UNC completed the first weekend of conference play with an unblemished 2-0 mark.