NAU women axe halftime deficit, cut down Southern Utah

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Northern Arizona women’s basketball team axed an 18-point halftime deficit and notched their first Big Sky victory in grand fashion Monday night, defeating Southern Utah, 82-77, for the seventh consecutive time in Flagstaff.

The win snapped the Lumberjacks’ six-game losing streak since their last victory over UT Arlington on Dec. 14 and improved their record to 4-9 overall and 1-3 in the conference.

"We played better on both ends of the court, we rebounded better and we took care of the ball better in the second half," NAU coach Sue Darling said. "But at the end of the day, we’re at the point of our season where intangibles are going to win us games. If we don’t have the grit, the courage and the wanting to play for each other, it’s hard to win. What I saw in the second half tonight wasn’t Xs and Os, it was kids wanting to play and win together, so I was really proud of them. That was quite a comeback."

After both teams played the first six minutes of the game even, the Lumberjacks took their largest lead of the half courtesy of a 6-0 run spurred by two baskets from freshman Brittani Lusain and a layup by senior Amanda Frost. The spurt gave NAU a 20-14 lead at the 11:58 mark, but Southern Utah climbed back within one with under nine minutes left before the half.

The teams traded baskets until a Thunderbird bucket with 6:56 remaining gave the visitors a 30-29 lead. Behind an 8-of-12 barrage from behind the arc, the Thunderbirds finished the half on a 19-2 run over the final 6:56 to take a 49-31 lead into halftime as the Lumberjacks missed five of their six shots over that span.

Frost, the team’s captain, was not going to be denied of a seventh-straight loss, and fourth straight to open Big Sky play, as she exploded for 25 second half points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field. The Lumberjacks stifled the Thunderbirds into just 29 percent shooting from the field and forced 14 turnovers over the final 20 minutes.

Southern Utah scored the first basket of the second half to open its largest lead of 20 before the Lumberjacks slowly chopped away. Frost’s three-pointer brought NAU’s deficit to single-digits at 57-49 with 13:12 remaining and she followed with another triple to cut the deficit to five. The Lumberjacks were just getting started and with a layup by junior Erikka Banks with 10:34 to play, NAU took the lead for good. A three by freshman Rene Coggins and a final layup by Frost capped a 19-0 run over a four-minute stretch in which the Lumberjacks did not misfire on eight shots.

The Thunderbirds got within three at 75-72 with 1:42 remaining, but the Lumberjacks hit five of six free throws down the stretch to secure the dramatic come-from-behind victory.

Frost’s big second half powered her to a career-high 34 points, topping her previous best of 30 set earlier this season at Utah Valley. The senior shot 11-of-19, hit four three-pointers to move into eighth all-time in school history, and was 8-of-9 from the free throw line. She led four Lumberjacks in double-figures and added four assists, two rebounds and two steals.

"We just kept saying we need stops and scores," Frost said. "We were playing for each other and we wanted it really bad. I don’t even know I’m scoring that many points. I’m playing for my team and I wanted to win. We were down and I got us going."

Banks played a huge role in the second half comeback totaling 10 points, six rebounds and five of her six steals. She finished with 16 points and nine rebounds as well as six steals, one shy of her career-high. Coggins was an efficient 5-of-7 from the field, 4-of-6 from long range, for 14 points and Lusain added 10 points, five assists and two blocks off the bench. Freshman Catelyn Preston started for the second consecutive game and chipped in five points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.

NAU rode a 61 percent second half to a 52 percent performance for the game while limiting Southern Utah to 43 percent. They shot a season-best 89.5 percent from the free-throw line as well.

"It was good that our team saw their hard work pay off tonight," Darling said. "It makes a big difference when they play hard like that and we’re going to be hard to beat if we can keep that energy up."

NAU hopes to ride this wave of momentum as it heads right back on the road, making the trip to the Pacific Northwest to face Eastern Washington on Thursday and Portland State on Saturday.