Women’s basketball drops seven straight over break
The holiday season was not kind to the NAU women’s basketball team, as the Lumberjacks lost their past seven games, including their first four Big Sky Conference games.
Following a double overtime home loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers (14–1, 3–0 Big Ten), who are currently ranked No. 15 in the AP Top 25 and 23 in the ESPN USA Today Coaches Poll, the Lumberjacks (5–11, 0–4 Big Sky) dropped their next six to total their current streak of seven.
In their most recent past game, the Lumberjacks dropped a 74–56 loss to the Eastern Washington Eagles (9–8, 3–1 Big Sky) on Jan. 7, despite junior guard Amy Patton scoring a season-high 27 points.
NAU was forced to play from behind after finishing the first half down 35–20 and fell down by as much as 30 when Eastern Washington led 61–31 with 12:25 to play. The Lumberjacks were done-in by turnovers, finishing with 31 while only forcing the Eagles into 18.
After struggling from the field for weeks, Patton finally got her shots to fall as she finished 11-of-12 from the field, including 3-of-3 from three-point range and was the only Lumberjack in double digits for the game. She also added seven rebounds and three steals.
In her previous six games, Patton had shot 31 percent from the field and a mere 12.5 percent from the 3-point line while averaging 11.8 points per game. All three totals are well below her career averages of 38 percent, 31 percent and 17.5 points, respectively.
The Lumberjacks opened their pair of home games against the defending regular season conference champion Portland State Vikings (10–5, 2–1 Big Sky) on Jan. 5. In their first home game in 26 days, the Lumberjacks fell to the conference champs 84–74.
The Lumberjacks fell behind 45–25 in the first half, but rallied in the second as they outscored the Vikings 49–39 and shot 53 percent from the field.
Junior center Aubrey Davis and sophomore forward Trinidee Trice led the Lumberjacks with 15 points apiece. Patton narrowly missed a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds while adding four assists and four steals.
On New Year’s Eve, the Lumberjacks dropped another road game in Greeley, Colo. with a 77–71 loss to the Northern Colorado Grizzles (10–6, 2–1 Big Sky). NAU only trailed by three with 1:45 to play following a three by Frost, but the Grizzlies closed on a 5–0 run before Patton scored a layup as time expired.
Patton finished with 18 points and six rebounds on 8-of-22 shooting, but missed all six of her three point attempts. Sophomore guard Amanda Frost finished with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting and hit 4-of-6 from three.
Two nights prior to the trip to Greeley, the Lumberjacks traveled to Sacramento State for their conference opener.
Unfortunately, the struggles on the road continued as they fell 91–85 in double overtime, the Lumberjack’s second double overtime game of the year and third in program history.
In a game of scoring runs for each school, the Lumberjacks opened the game’s first nine minutes with a 20–3 lead. However, the Hornets went on a 13–0 run to make the score 20–16 with 7:09 to play in the first and ended down six to Lumberjacks, 33–27.
Sacramento opened the second half on a 7–0 run to take the lead 34–33, but again found themselves trailing NAU 52–43 with 8:12 to play.
But with the Lumberjacks leading 60–57 with 25 seconds left, Hornets sophomore guard Alle Moreno hit a three to send the game to overtime.
After playing even in the first overtime, the score was tied at 81 with 2:45 left in the second OT, Sacramento went on an 8–1 run to wrap up the win.
Patton finished the game just two assists shy of a triple-double as she totaled 23 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists on 8-of-26 shooting including 2-of-7 from three.
Prior to the beginning of Big Sky play, the Lumberjacks lost their final two non-conference match ups against the Utah Valley Wolverines (UVU) (7–9) and the Utah State Aggies (USU) (9–5).
“Our road woes continue. I feel like we’re just not the same team at home that we are on the road,” said head coach Laurie Kelly. “We’re really struggling to shoot the ball well on the road.”
The trouble began against the Wolverines Dec. 17 with a 73–56 loss in Orem, Utah. The Lumberjacks trailed the Wolverines 26–22 with 8:05 remaining in the opening half following a layup by senior guard Caty Huntington, but UVU closed the half on a 22–10 run to put the lead at 48–32 at the break.
The momentum turned back in favor of the Lumberjacks as they opened the half on a 10–0 run to close the lead to 48–42, but missed opportunities during the run prevented NAU from taking the lead for themselves. A pair of misses by sophomore forward Shay May and junior forward Tyler Stephens-Jenkins coupled with turnovers by sophomore forwards Khyra Conerly and Trice plagued the run from reaching its full potential.
The Wolverines gradually pushed the lead to 18 with 5:45 remaining to close out the victory. The Lumberjacks finished the game shooting 36 percent from the field and were a meager 1-of-13 from three compared to the Wolverines 49 percent from the field and 6-of-9 from three. UVU also outshot the Lumberjacks from the line, 21-of-30 compared to NAU’s 9-of-19.
The Lumberjacks were led by Stephens-Jenkins with 11 points and four rebounds on 4-of-11 shooting. Conerly added nine points on 4-of-10 shooting and four assists. Leading scorer Patton only shot 2-of-4 for four points and six rebounds.
“The people that we feel like are our strong players; they’re struggling right now individually,” Kelly said. “As a team, when it’s struggling, you want to lean on Tyler and Amy. You want to lean on those players because they are the ones who have gotten you where you are and are tremendous basketball players.”
The trip to Logan, Utah on Dec. 19 was no easier for the Lumberjacks as they fell 70–51 to the Aggies in a game they never led. USU pulled out to a 6–0 lead less than three minutes into the game and soon pushed the lead to 25–9 following back to back threes by USU with a Huntington jumper for NAU in-between.
The Aggies held their largest lead of the game 35–13 before the Lumberjacks, again, went on a 10–0 run to eat at the lead late in the first half, before the Aggies drilled another three to go into half-time 38–23.
After trading baskets for much of the second, the Aggies broke through for an 8–0 to take a 54–33 lead. The run was capped off by four free throws on a single possession as a result of a technical foul on May. The lead was pushed even higher as USU led by as much as 26 points with less than three minutes remaining.
While the result was disappointing, one positive for the Lumberjacks was Conerly’s aggressive play, which constantly penetrated into the lane for layups and free throw attempts. She finished with 16 points, one away from tying her career high, on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 from the line. Conerly also added four rebounds and three steals.
“She is one of the players that gets to the rim better than anyone one on our team. I think she is one of the best in the league at that,” Kelly said. “She is such an athlete and she is so quick off the dribble; it’s difficult to keep her from getting to the rim.”
Kelly added that Conerly’s penetration has helped an offense that is struggling right now.
“She’s doing a really good job of creating shot opportunities for other people off her penetration,” she said. “Khyra recognizes that she has a slower-footed kid guarding her and is confident at penetrating over someone she has a step on.”
The only other Lumberjack in double figures was Frost, who hit 4-of-7, including 2-of-3 from three for 10 points.
As a team, the Lumberjacks again struggled to shoot with the Aggies out-shooting them 40 percent to 33 percent from the field. It was no different for the Lumberjacks from outside as they shot 21percent from three compared to the Aggies 46 percent. The discrepancy in free-throw shooting continued as well, with the Lumberjacks shooting 6-of-15 from the line compared to the Aggies 24-of-31.
“It would have been nice to get one on the road this weekend try to get that chip off our shoulder,” Kelly said. “If we’re going to struggle on the road, I guess I’d rather in non-league and hopefully get it going in league play.”