NAU's Guards Can't Carry 'Jacks Past Montana State

Olivia Lucero (Photo Courtesy of Kelly Gorham)
Olivia Lucero (Photo Courtesy of Kelly Gorham)

BOZEMAN, Mont. – The Northern Arizona women's basketball team played a strong third quarter to cut their halftime deficit, but strong scoring games by their backcourt were nullified by a well-balanced team performance by Montana State in an 86-69 loss Thursday night. The Bobcats had five players score at least 10 points to offset 59 combined points from redshirt junior Olivia Lucero, senior Rene Coggins and freshman Raina Perez.

Lucero scored 12 of her game-high 29 points in the third quarter as NAU (6-17 overall, 2-10 Big Sky) trimmed its 15-point halftime deficit to nine entering the fourth quarter. Lucero became the first Lumberjack to post three consecutive 20-point games since Amanda Frost recorded seven straight in 2014. She shot 10-of-19 from the field, knocked down three triples and added five rebounds.

Coggins scored 17 points and Perez added 13 to complement Lucero's game, but outside of NAU's starting backcourt, the Lumberjacks received just 10 points from the rest of the team. Lucero, Coggins and Perez each made three from long distance, accounting for all nine of NAU's three-pointers.

NAU found itself down early, 9-3, but Coggins' second trey eventually brought the Lumberjacks even at 15-all. An 8-2 Montana State run to close the first quarter then turned into a game-changing 18-4 surge by the Bobcats to break the contest open with seven and a half minutes remaining in the first half. Montana State would take a 45-30 lead into halftime despite a dozen first half points from Coggins.

The Bobcats led by as much as 18 in the third quarter before Lucero went to work as she torched the home team both inside and out. A pair of free throws by sophomore Kaleigh Paplow, who was NAU's next highest scorer with six points, closed the deficit to 63-54 heading into the final period.

"Our third quarter was strong; we've been struggling in the third quarter but we outscored Montana State by six tonight," said interim head coach Robyne Bostick. "I liked the energy that we started with even though we got down early (in the first quarter). We stayed aggressive, but we got to a point where they had an answer every time we got a score due to offensive rebounds, untimely turnovers and not protecting the paint."

Despite having momentum on their side, the Lumberjacks' comeback was thwarted by a decisive 8-0 Montana State run to open the final period as the Bobcats shot 58.3 percent in the fourth quarter to keep the 'Jacks at a distance.

Montana State controlled the paint with a dominant 40-22 advantage, which led to an efficient 47.6 percent offensive showing. The Bobcats also outrebounded the Lumberjacks, 45-33, and had a 32-4 upper hand in bench points.

NAU shot 39.7 percent overall from the field and its nine threes were its highest output since the Lumberjacks' conference opener on Dec. 31.

The 'Jacks will look to snap their six-game losing streak on Saturday when they make the short trip to Missoula, Mont. to face the Montana Lady Griz at 2 p.m.