NAU women head into Big Sky tourney as No. 5 seed

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Northern Arizona women’s basketball team shot 63.2 percent from the field — the second-highest field goal percentage in school history — but fell to Sacramento State 105-81 in its regular-season finale Saturday.

The Lumberjacks (13-16 overall, 9-9 Big Sky) heads into next week’s conference tournament as the No. 5 seed.

"I like that we shot 63 percent; Sac State plays a different style and allows you to shoot a lot of layups," said head coach Sue Darling. "Raven (Anderson) scored a boatload of points and finished her layups and once Mariah (Willadsen) got things figured out, she did a great job going to the hoop as well."

Anderson fell one point shy of career high, finishing with a game-high 24 points on 11-of-16 shooting, to go with eight rebounds. Junior Mariah Willadsen had her best scoring game of the season, reaching the 20-point plateau for the first time as a Lumberjack, notching 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting.

Anderson was a force early, scoring nine points during a 15-8 game-opening run for the Lumberjacks. Anderson then jump-started an 8-0 run, which gave NAU its biggest lead of the game, 23-12, with 10:28 left in the first half.

NAU was up 29-21 with 7:19 remaining in the half before the Hornets turned the tide. After giving up its lead, NAU regained it at 34-33 following a layup from junior Madi Austin at the 3:42 mark, but Sacramento State hit a 3-pointer seconds later to take the lead for good.

The Hornets went into halftime with a 48-43 lead despite shooting only 33.3 percent. The 3-point shooting squad found its stroke after halftime though, hitting 55.3 percent overall, including a 9-for-14 performance from behind the arc. That allowed the Hornets to build on their halftime advantage.

NAU was hurt by Sacramento State’s relentless pressure, turning the ball over a season-high 34 times, which led to 38 points for the Hornets. In the end, Sac State, the nation’s leaders in made 3-pointers, steals and turnover margin, played as advertised, denying the Lumberjacks of a weekend road sweep to end the regular season.

Senior Errika Banks led all players with 10 rebounds, helping NAU to a 43-33 advantage on the glass, while junior Monique Mulder posted team-highs of four assists and five steals.

The Lumberjacks finished in a three-way tie for fifth place with North Dakota and Montana State. NAU claimed the tiebreaking edge, so it will enter the conference tournament as the No. 5 seed and will face No. 4 seed Eastern Washington in Missoula, Mont.

"We have a lot of fight left in us and that’s a good thing to have at this time of year," Darling said. "Our focus is good. I don’t mind the way we are playing right now. Our defense has stayed steady and our offense has come along, and we’ve settled into our rotation. It’s not a bad way to head into our one-game season coming up."