MOSCOW, Idaho – The game plan was simple – defend the three-point line. The Northern Arizona women's basketball team then executed the game plan with an aggressive style of defense that has not been seen often this season, and as a result NAU picked up a huge victory, 76-61, over Idaho Wednesday night. The 'Jacks (9-19 overall, 5-12 Big Sky) notched their first win in Moscow since Feb. 22, 1996 in the process and also defeated the Vandals for the first time since Idaho rejoined the Big Sky Conference prior to the 2014-15 season.
"Idaho is a tough team to beat, and even tougher on the road," said interim head coach Robyne Bostick. "We wanted to limit their top two scorers and get them out of a rhythm of what they wanted to do offensively. It was really to good to see us execute what we saw in the scouting report. We had a more of a sense of urgency closing out on their shooters and our defensive intensity was better than what we've seen."
After the Vandals lit up the Lumberjacks for 91 points, and drained 18 three-pointers, in the Skydome on Jan. 21, NAU took it upon itself to not let that happen once more. Idaho was just 10-for-34 from behind the arc – and missed its first 10 threes – with Lumberjack defenders flying around the perimeter, marking a stark contrast from the teams' first meeting.
In particular, with senior Taylor Leyva and the rest of NAU's perimeter defenders guarding the line, Idaho's Mikayla Ferenz and Taylor Pierce combined for just 11 points after totaling 63 against NAU the first time around. Ferenz was just 4-for-19 from the field and 2-for-10 from three after putting up a Big Sky season-high 41 points versus the Lumberjacks in January, while Pierce was shut out of the scoring column all together on 0-for-6 shooting.
"Our game plan was to keep Ferenz and Pierce under 35, so holding them to 11 was a huge accomplishment for us," said senior Rene Coggins. "Defense is our focus going into Eastern Washington next and then Reno. When we play really well on the defensive end, it gets our offense going. We need to trust that our defense will get us there."
While the Lumberjacks' defensive intensity was the headlining act, freshman Raina Perez was not a far sidebar story as she posted a season-best 26 points to lead the Lumberjacks offensively. Perez knocked down four threes in her first career 20-point performance while also adding four assists.
Senior Catelyn Preston got the Lumberjacks going with a pair of threes to open the game, then NAU took advantage of Idaho's cold start by finishing on a 7-0 run to take an 18-10 lead after the first period. The Vandals finished the first quarter on a scoring drought of over five minutes and missed their final nine field goal attempts.
NAU extended its run to 14-2 with seven of the first nine points of the second quarter and it led by as much as 15 following a Perez three with 5:49 left in the first half. The 'Jacks would eventually take a 36-29 lead into halftime with eight three-pointers as a team playing a big deciding factor.
Despite the halftime lead, NAU was minus-11 on the glass in the first half – a fact that was rectified in the final 20 minutes. Overall, the Lumberjacks wound up with the rebounding edge, 39-38, with sophomore Kaleigh Paplow grabbing eight of her season-high 13 boards after halftime.
"Down 11 rebounds isn't where we wanted to be at halftime," Bostick said. "We definitely wanted the team to go after some of those rebounds; there were some missed shots in the first half where the ball seemed to bounce right in front of us. We wanted to make sure to secure those rebounds in the second half and they did that."
NAU needed every edge it could, particularly in the third quarter when Idaho would climb all the way back from to take a 47-45 lead with two and a half minutes left in the period. However, Perez got to the rim twice for a pair of layups and Coggins ended the quarter with a jumper to reclaim the advantage going into the fourth.
The quarter-ending 6-0 spurt was just the start and a 19-5 run over seven minutes was the clincher as NAU led 75-58 with under a minute left following two free throws by Coggins. In the fourth quarter, the Lumberjacks shot 8-for-13 from the field to seal the deal.
Out of all the factors in the game, the decisive number was points off turnovers in which NAU held a 26-11 advantage – the 15 points matching the final margin on the scoreboard. NAU took advantage of an uncharacteristic 18 miscues by Idaho, who entered the game averaging a Big Sky low 13.1 turnovers per game – 28th fewest in the nation.
Coggins netted 19 points behind Perez's leading effort with Preston also reaching double-figures with 10. NAU shot 40 percent overall compared to Idaho's 37.1 percent clip.
The Lumberjacks, winners of three of their last four, conclude the regular season Friday night at Eastern Washington. Tip-off is 7 p.m. Arizona time.