NAU women can’t keep up with Sacramento State

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Northern Arizona women got a career-best scoring night from junior Erikka Banks and received several career contributions from their freshmen, but Sacramento State pulled away in the second half to turn a halftime tie into a 104-79 victory Thursday night.

Banks led four Lumberjacks in double figures with a career-high 28 points, but NAU fell to 0-3 in conference play and was unable to keep pace with the nation’s third-highest-scoring team.

"We know their style of play — they’re a high-possession team — and we turned the ball over 35 times, and you can’t win any game with 35 turnovers," said NAU coach Sue Darling. "We played into their hands a little in the second half and they just wore us down a little. I’m proud of the way we came out in the first half, but we just couldn’t stay with it in the second half."

The game was played at a frenetic pace as dictated by the Hornets’ style, and the Lumberjacks went toe-to-toe with the home team in the first half. The lead changed hands 16 times in the first 20 minutes. After Sacramento State hit a 3-pointer, the first of 17 for the night, on its first possession, NAU freshman Taylor Leyva answered with a layup that was followed by a 3-pointer by senior Amanda Frost. That gave NAU a 5-3 lead in the first of a series of lead exchanges.

The Hornets eventually went on a 7-0 run to take their biggest lead of the first half at 33-26 with just under five minutes until halftime, but the Lumberjacks finished the half in a big way, as freshman Rene Coggins’ 3-pointer beat the halftime buzzer to send the teams into the locker rooms tied at 43-43.

The NAU momentum carried into the opening minutes of the second half. Sacramento State got the opening basket, but Coggins, freshman Cately Preston and Banks connected on three consecutive possessions as the Lumberjacks grabbed a quick 49-45 lead. Their advantage would vanish in a blink of an eye, though, as the Hornets put together an 11-0 run to steal the momentum in just a minute and a half. NAU responded with baskets on four of its next five trips down the court, and following a layup by Banks with 14:40 remaining, the Lumberjacks trailed just 60-57.

A corresponding 15-2 run by the Hornets put the game out of reach, though, and NAU got only as close as 12 the rest of the way.

The Lumberjacks shot 49.3 percent for the game and were above the 50 percent mark until the final minutes, while the Hornets shot just 40.5 percent. Averaging 43 3-point attempts per game, Sacramento State hit 17 of 49 for the game (34.7 percent). Despite outrebounding the Hornets by a 48-39 margin, the Lumberjacks were hurt by a season-high 35 turnovers, which turned into 48 points for Sacramento State, which ranks first in the country in steals per game.

Playing without two of their starters — Raven Anderson and Brittani Lusain — due to injury, Preston and freshman Avonna Lee were among those who stepped up for NAU. Preston missed a triple-double but notched all career highs with 13 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, while Lee totaled eight points off the bench. Coggins (14 points) and Leyva (career-high seven rebounds) also starred. Banks finished with her third triple-double of the season with 11 rebounds to go with her 28 points on 11-for-14 shooting, and Frost added 12 points.

"I was proud of all the freshmen," Darling said. "They played with poise, and this isn’t an easy environment. Catelyn had eight assists, which was tremendous. I thought Rene had a great game, Taylor had a great game, Avonna had a great game, but we didn’t have the energy at the end of the game that we needed."