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'Jacks Battle All the Way Back Before Dropping 60-59 Heartbreaker to Montana

Catelyn Preston (Photo Courtesy of Todd Goodrich)
Catelyn Preston (Photo Courtesy of Todd Goodrich)

MISSOULA, Mont. – Senior Catelyn Preston led an emotional hard-charged Northern Arizona women's basketball rally on Saturday, but two final second shots would not fall as the Lumberjacks dropped a heartbreaker, 60-59, to Montana. Preston recorded her third career double-double with season-highs of 13 points and 12 rebounds only for NAU (6-18 overall, 2-11 Big Sky) to come up just shy of recording its first win in the Dahlberg Arena in a decade.

"Today we knew we needed some other people to step up, especially after Olivia (Lucero) got into foul trouble early," said interim head coach Robyne Bostick. "Catelyn Preston came in and got some confidence in the third quarter and Raina Perez got to the basket and knocked down some shots. We knew it was going to be tough down the stretch where each possession carries a lot more weight, and while we had a couple of good looks at the end, a defensive breakdown was the difference. I'm still really proud of our team's effort though and they never hung their heads."

With redshirt junior Olivia Lucero – on the heels of three straight 20-point games –saddled on the bench with four fouls and NAU facing an 18-point deficit, 45-27, with six minutes left in the third quarter, a 13th straight loss in Missoula seemed like a foregone conclusion. Then Preston went to work and with help from Perez, the pair forged a furious comeback.

Preston scored 10 straight Lumberjack points, including consecutive threes, and Perez added a pair of buckets to put the Lady Griz in panic mode as the 'Jacks found themselves down just four, 47-41, at the end of three following a 14-2 run. Preston made all four of her shot attempts and grabbed five of her career-high tying 12 boards in the third quarter alone.

Perez then took the baton and recorded 11 of her team-high 18 points in the final period to put NAU in a position to pull off its biggest come-from-behind win of the season. Perez's three accounted for the first of four lead changes in the final two minutes, putting the Lumberjacks in front, 57-56, with 1:16 on the clock. After Montana retook the lead, Lucero drove and finished at the rim to put the 'Jacks back in front, 59-58, with 26 seconds left.

With five seconds remaining the Lady Griz turned what appeared to be a broken possession into the game-winning layup, but the game was far from over. NAU advanced the ball, but Perez's three was off the mark with 1.3 seconds left. The Lumberjacks fouled the Lady Griz, but two straight missed free throws – one intentional – gave NAU one final look. Senior Rene Coggins inbounded to Lucero with 0.5 seconds remaining, but Lucero's off-balanced shot banked off the glass allowing the Lady Griz to survive on their home court.

Montana initially seized control of the game with a 13-2 run over five minutes to break open a 2-2 game. The Lady Griz shot 53.8 percent to hold a 19-10 lead after the first period and maintained a double-digit advantage throughout the second into halftime.

However, NAU's defense clamped down and held Montana to just 36 percent shooting the rest of the game to aid the Lumberjacks' comeback effort. Included in their defensive performance was shutting out Taylor Goligoski – Montana's leading scorer – of the point column with an 0-for-9 showing.

"Defensively we knew that they would probably cool off, and if we could get the rebound and keep them off the offensive boards, we'd be fine," Bostick said. "We wanted them to take tough shots and secure the rebound. Catelyn had a double-double and did a great job on the boards for us. Our defensive effort in the second half to hold them to 24 points was important."

Also of note, sophomore Kaleigh Paplow tied her season-high of 11 rebounds to go along with seven points, while Coggins scored nine points to move within 21 of a 1,000 for her career. Coggins also registered a game-high four assists.

Montana held narrow advantages in field goal percentage (39.7-38.1) and rebounding (43-40) in what was as close of a game statistically as it was on the scoreboard.

The Lumberjacks will now play out their home schedule over the next two weeks with their final three games of the season in the Walkup Skydome. NAU will host Southern Utah next Saturday at 2 p.m. in its only game of the week. The 'Jacks have already defeated the Thunderbirds once this year, 77-68, in overtime on Dec. 31 in Cedar City.