Defense lifts NAU women to 66-35 win over UC Irvine in opener

Rene Coggins defends against Raelyn Cheung-Sutton during NAU’s 66-35 season-opening win over UC Irvine.


Kelsey Metoxen

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona women’s basketball team clamped down defensively and shut down UC Irvine on their way to a 66-35 season opening victory Friday night in the Rolle Activity Center.

The Lumberjacks, who allowed 79.3 points per game a year ago, held the Anteaters to just 21.3 percent shooting to open the season 1-0 for the first time since 2007 after six consecutive season opening defeats.

"We’ve been working really hard on our defense so I was really proud of our defensive effort tonight," said head coach Sue Darling."To hold them to 35 points is phenomenal, and we outrebounded them by 25 and had 22 offensive rebounds. It was a gritty and gutsy effort and it wasn’t a pretty game, but the girls have bought into the defense we’re playing now. It’s been fun to watch them improve every day, but we still have a lot of work to do."

The 35 points allowed was the lowest opponent total against NAU since a 72-32 victory against Western New Mexico in 2006. Against Division I opponents, the last time NAU allowed fewer points was  101-29 win over Sacramento State on Jan. 19, 2002 (a span of 348 games).

Senior Erikka Banks had a stellar debut to her final season, finishing with a double-double on 16 points and 15 rebounds along with three steals. Eight of Banks’ rebounds came on the offensive glass. Sophomore Brittani Lusain finished with a game-high 18 points, including a pair of 3-pointers and an 8 of 9 from the free-throw line in addition to seven rebounds, four assists and two steals.

NAU led 32-21 lead at halftime before pulling away by limiting the Anteaters to 14 second-half points.

"Coach told us in the locker room that the first team to settle down will go on a run first, and we did that," Lusain said."There were some early jitters, but it turned out great for us. We’ve been working on our defense since the end of last season and it felt good to see things fall into place after how hard we worked."

NAU limited the Anteaters to 17.4 percent shooting in the second half (4 of 23). The Lumberjacks used a 14-0 run to take a 54-23 lead and win going away.

Senior Raven Anderson also had a strong all-around game, finishing with 10 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks.

"Our main focus was to rebound and box out because we knew their strength was going to the offensive boards," Banks said."We were very excited to start the season, and we showed everybody what we’re capable of."

NAU wraps up the first weekend of play Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in the Rolle Activity Center against Western New Mexico.