NAU Falls Short in the Final Seconds in 80-78 Loss to North Dakota

Brittani Lusain (Photo by Steve August)
Brittani Lusain (Photo by Steve August)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona women's basketball team frantically erased a 16-point North Dakota deficit, but a frenetic final sequence did not go their way in a narrow 80-78 loss on Thursday. NAU (5-8 overall, 1-1 Big Sky) had three shots in the final 10 seconds to find the equalizer, but ultimately dropped its first conference game despite the valiant effort.

"One thing I've never questioned this season is our team's effort," said interim head coach Robyne Bostick. "Every game we're playing with a lot of effort, but we need to learn how to execute for 40 minutes. Right now we're only executing 25-30 minutes a game and we have to put together a 40-minute game."

After the Fighting Hawks split their pair at the free throw line to make it a two-point game, senior Brittani Lusain had the first shot under the basket to tie the game. Lusain's layup was blocked, but Lusain's offensive rebound gave the 'Jacks a second opportunity. Freshman Raina Perez's three-pointer was then blocked and following a mad scramble, redshirt junior Olivia Lucero's final attempt as the buzzer expired was off the mark allowing North Dakota to escape the Walkup Skydome with a win.

The two teams arrived at the final seconds of the game after a second half of momentum swings. UND broke open its 35-33 halftime lead with an 8-0 run in the first two minutes of the third quarter and in all scored the first 20 of 26 points coming out of the locker room. Facing its largest deficit, 55-39, midway through the third, NAU got consecutive baskets by senior Catelyn Preston and sophomore Kaleigh Paplow to calm the tide.

NAU then finished the quarter on an 11-2 run, allowing the Lumberjacks to head into the final period down just 58-54. Perez and Lucero opened the fourth with layups bringing the teams even on the scoreboard before Perez twice gave NAU a lead – the last coming with 6:42 remaining at 67-65. From there, North Dakota used a quick 7-0 run to retake the lead for the final time. The 'Jacks played from behind the rest of the way, but got within a single point, 79-78, on a corner three from redshirt junior Kenna McDavis which set the stage for the final moments of the game.

The second half was a stark contrast to the first, where neither team held a lead larger than four points through the first 20 minutes.

Although Lucero led four 'Jacks in double-figures with 20 points – her second 20-point game of the season – NAU was hammered on the offensive glass for the second consecutive game. North Dakota outrebounded NAU, 43-32, and seemingly came up with offensive rebounds in critical moments of the game. In all, the Fighting Hawks grabbed 14 offensive boards which led to a 15-8 advantage in second chance points.

"We knew rebounding was going to be a key for us tonight because North Dakota is a very good rebounding team," Bostick said. "Unfortunately, we didn't have five players on the floor at the same time who wanted to go for a rebound. If we could've limited them on the offensive end, I think it would've been a different game. We have to continue to work on that and improve on it by Saturday."

Lusain scored 15 points behind Lucero with McDavis and Perez each scoring 14 apiece. Lucero added four rebounds and four assists to her stat line, while Lusain grabbed a team-high six rebounds.

The Lumberjacks shot 43.5 percent for the game and 85 percent at the free throw line, but the Fighting Hawks outdid the 'Jacks with a 47.5 field goal percentage. UND also hit 12 three-pointers, the most by an NAU opponent this season, to win despite a minus-seven margin in the turnover category.

NAU returns to the Skydome floor Saturday afternoon versus Northern Colorado at 2 p.m. The Bears continued their undefeated start to conference play Thursday night with an 83-53 win on the road at Southern Utah.