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'Jacks Heat Up in the Fourth Quarter to Down the Eagles, 56-47

Catelyn Preston (Photo by Steve August)
Catelyn Preston (Photo by Steve August)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – For three quarters, the Northern Arizona women's basketball team and Eastern Washington was as chilly as the weekend winter storm that began to roll through Flagstaff on Thursday. Then, the 'Jacks – led by freshman Raina Perez – defrosted just in time to pull away with a 56-47 victory over the Eagles to snap their four-game losing streak.

"In the fourth quarter, we knew we had to just stay aggressive," said interim head coach Robyne Bostick. "We knew if we could get out and run in transition that would help our offense. Like Monday at Portland State when our shot isn't falling, we still have to play tough defense and that will lead us to wins. Eventually we were going to get over the hump and hopefully after finally winning (a close game), that'll give us momentum heading into Saturday's game."

The Lumberjacks matched their output through three quarters in the final period alone, outscoring the Eagles 28-18 in the fourth quarter. Eastern Washington held a brief 29-28 edge going into the fourth quarter. NAU shot 11-for-16 from the field and knocked down a set of three-pointers in the last 10 minutes – also surpassing the eight made field goals and equaling the three baskets behind the arc through the first 30 minutes.

NAU's bench paced by Perez, who scored 12 of her team-high 15 points in the fourth quarter, outscored its starters. Perez, senior Catelyn Preston (10 points) and senior Taylor Leyva (eight points) combined for 33 of the Lumberjacks' 56 points.

"We talk a lot about everybody being ready when their opportunity comes, so it was good to see players come off the bench and produce," Bostick said. "Catelyn Preston, Raina Perez and Taylor Leyva were all impressive. We've been challenging them to do a little more when they come in, and not to defer to others who usually score for us."

The fourth quarter was unlike the rest of the game as neither team cracked 30 points prior. NAU scored just four points in the opening period – its lowest scoring quarter since the women's game changed to a four quarter format last season – but still trailed just 10-4 after one. The Lumberjacks used the three-shot in the second quarter, with Preston connecting on two of NAU's three long distance shots, to inch closer heading into the break.

The Eagles still claimed a meager 20-18 lead at half with both teams under 30 percent shooting and the third quarter was not much better as the teams combined to make just seven buckets in the stanza.

It was not until Leyva knocked down a three from straight away to open the fourth that NAU led. The Eagles tied it up on the following possession, but a Perez three-pointer with 8:51 remaining broke the 31-31 tie for good. The shot set a 10-2 run in motion capped by consecutive layups from sophomore Kaleigh Paplow and senior Brittani Lusain that forced an EWU timeout.

The 'Jacks would lead by as much as a dozen, 46-34, with 4:36 left, but the Eagles had one final run in them. After failing to hit a three until then, Eastern Washington hit four straight from behind the arc to eventually claw back within 50-47 with under two minutes left, but NAU finished with the game's final six points.

NAU's big fourth quarter evened out its night as the Lumberjacks wound up shooting 36.5 percent for the game. The Eagles shot just 26.8 percent, which was the second-lowest opponent percentage against the 'Jacks this season. The 47 points were also a season-low allowed by NAU.

"Our defense has been touch-and-go this season," Preston said. "Talking and being there for each other makes playing defense so much easier when you know you have four other players out there to help out. It was nice to have everyone come together tonight and play the type of defense we know we're capable of playing."

Lusain, who was the third Lumberjack in double-figures with 10 points, just missed a double-double with nine rebounds. Paplow and Preston both added eight boards apiece, as NAU outrebounded Eastern Washington, 44-36.

The Lumberjacks, now 6-11 overall and 2-4 in conference, have matched both their overall and Big Sky win totals from a season ago. NAU will close out the weekend Saturday in the Skydome versus Idaho at 6:30 p.m.