'Jacks Pound T-Birds on the Boards to Snap Skid with 77-65 Victory

Taylor Leyva (Photo by Steve August)
Taylor Leyva (Photo by Steve August)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – A week after carrying a short bench on the road, the Northern Arizona women's basketball got a couple of reinforcements back, including senior Taylor Leyva, and what a difference it made on Saturday. Leyva was at the forefront of a dominant second half by the Lumberjacks, as they shot 52.9 percent after the intermission to turn a halftime deficit into a 77-65 rout of Southern Utah.

NAU is now 7-18 overall and 3-11 in Big Sky play as it snapped its seven-game losing streak. The Lumberjacks defeated the Thunderbirds for the 10th straight time at home dating back to 1995.

"We were aggressive in the third quarter and we were able to get to the free throw line," said interim head coach Robyne Bostick. "We wanted to make an adjustment on how we were going to attack off their on-ball screens. But we talked all week that they were a good rebounding team and we challenged them to rebound in practice because we knew that would be important for us to win today."

Southern Utah pounded NAU on the glass during the teams' first meeting of the season on Dec. 31, winning the rebounding battle by 15, and the Lumberjacks made sure to repay the favor on their home floor. Led by Leyva's career-high tying 10 rebounds – nine of which came in the second half – NAU was plus-nine, 45-36, in the rebounding column on Saturday. The 'Jacks particularly made a living after halftime posting 26 boards to the Thunderbirds' 14 and turning 11 offensive rebounds into 17 second chance points in the final two quarters.

Leyva, who missed last week's road trip due to an injury, was a welcomed addition back to the roster as she recorded her first career double-double with a season-high 11 points to go with her team-high 10 rebounds in just 21 minutes of action off the bench. She made both of her three-point attempts and was 3-for-6 overall from the field and 3-for-4 from the line.

"We knew we had to go out there and rebound to win," Leyva said. "Last game, we were outrebounded by 15. They had six offensive rebounds in the first half, so we knew we had to shut them down because that's how they pick up momentum and stay in games."

NAU had six players in double-figures for the second time this season led by freshman Raina Perez's 15. Redshirt junior Olivia Lucero (14), senior Rene Coggins (12), sophomore Kaleigh Paplow (12) and senior Catelyn Preston (11) also joined Perez and Leyva in the double-digit department as the six players combined for 75 of NAU's 77 total points.

Perez fired out of the cannon and immediately scored the game's first five points as NAU jumped out to a 7-2 advantage. Southern Utah would claim the lead though and led by eight, 26-18, midway through the second quarter before back-to-back threes by Preston and Lucero brought the 'Jacks back within two. The Thunderbirds would finish the first half with an 8-2 run though to take a 34-26 lead into halftime.

Southern Utah led by as much as 12 with 6:19 left in the third quarter, but for the second time this season the Thunderbirds would squander a 12-point lead to the Lumberjacks. A 10-0 ensuing run by NAU over a three-minute stretch closed the gap to 44-40 and Coggins capped the third quarter with a three – her first bucket of the game – to actually send NAU into the final period ahead, 50-48.

As it turns out, Coggins was just heating up as she made five of her final eight shots from the field after misfiring on her first five. Following her three to close the third, she scored nine points in the fourth while Leyva recorded eight of her 11 in the final 10 minutes as well.

Preston kicked off a decisive 9-0 run that snapped a 52-52 tie and gave the Lumberjacks the lead for good. By the time Coggins' final trey swished through the net with two minutes remaining in the game, NAU held a game-high 14-point lead marking a massive 26-point swing over 14 minutes of game play.

While Coggins and Leyva elevated the 'Jacks in the fourth quarter, Preston was a steady contributor all game as she posted her second straight double-double in her first start of the season with 10 rebounds to go with six assists, two blocks and a steal to round out her all-around stat line. Leyva and Preston marked the first teammates to record double-doubles in the same game this season.

"When you get towards the end of the season, especially as seniors, you realize how quickly time goes by," Bostick said. "At this point, there are really no more wasted practices and we can't waste any more games. Every second on the court is important and our seniors want to end their careers knowing they left it all out there."

NAU shot 44.4 percent for the game including a blistering 52.9 percent (18-for-34) in the second half on its way to 51 points after halftime. The Lumberjacks were also 13-for-15 from the free throw line.

The Lumberjacks close out their home schedule next week with Sacramento State on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. and Portland State on Saturday at 2 p.m.