NAU women dominate first half in blowout win

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Northern Arizona women’s basketball team racked up 57 first-half points, its highest point total for a half this season, and cruised to an 88-67 victory over Portland State at the Peter W. Stott Center on Saturday.

The Lumberjacks shot 66.7 percent in the first half in building up a 26-point halftime lead to pick up their first victory in Portland since 2006, spanning seven consecutive losses on the Vikings’ home court. The 88 points also established a new season high for Northern Arizona.

"I was proud of our kids; I told them that Thursday was a dark day for us," said NAU coach Sue Darling. "We’ve been very inconsistent. Our losses have been bad and our wins have been great. It’s matter of coming out focused and coming together with one goal in mind, and that’s to play our very best to win the game, and we did that tonight. I’m very proud of them."

Senior Amanda Frost and freshman Rene Coggins combined for 29 points on the outside while junior Erikka Banks controlled the paint with 13 points in the first half as the Lumberjacks took control early. The teams exchanged the first eight baskets until NAU seized control with a 3-pointer from Banks, her first since Dec. 14. Her triple was one of three by the Lumberjacks during a 12-0 run that put them in front 19-8 with 15:05 to play in the first half.

Another 11-0 run minutes later that included two 3-pointers by Coggins and one by Frost pushed NAU’s lead out to 21 with 9:52 remaining before halftime. Freshman Brittani Lusain’s layup gave the Lumberjacks their biggest advantage of the game at 51-23 with under three minutes left, and they took a 57-31 advantage into the half. The 57-point first half bested NAU’s 51-point second half from Monday against Southern Utah for the team’s highest-scoring half of the season, and the Lumberjacks’ 66.7 first-half field-goal percentage tied for the fourth-best field-goal percentage in a half in school history. Coggins and Frost each went 3 for 4 from long distance, helping the Lumberjacks to a 7-for-9 showing behind the arc.

"Coming off the loss (on Thursday), it hit us, and we came out with the mentality and intensity we needed to get going right away instead of getting into a hole," Coggins said. "Coach always stresses that we have all the pieces and we just need to put it all together, and we did that tonight, especially in the first half. It just shows that we’re moving in the right direction and our team work is improving every single game."

Although the Lumberjacks shot just 37 percent in the second half, their first-half outburst was more than enough for them to secure their second Big Sky victory of the season. NAU (5-10, 2-4 Big Sky) got enough late stops and made enough free throws to hold on after Portland State got within 15 with 6:55 remaining in the game. Lusain scored seven of her career-high-tying 18 points during a critical stretch that swung the balance back in the Lumberjacks’ favor and put the game out of reach at 82-60 with three minutes left.

The Vikings countered the Lumberjacks’ strong offensive output with one of their own, as they shot 50 percent from the field for the game. But NAU dominated the rebounding battle, finishing with a 38-25 edge, including 15 on the offensive glass. The Lumberjacks also equaled their season-high with 24 assists, 18 coming in the first half and outscored the Vikings 44-30 in the paint.

Frost shot 10 of 18 overall and 3 of 5 from 3-point range in scoring a game-high 28 points. She finished one assist shy of her first career double-double with a career-best nine assists to go along with five rebounds. Three other Lumberjacks also scored in double figures, as Banks tallied her fourth double-double of the season with 20 points and 10 rebounds, Lusain added 18 points and six assists off the bench and Coggins scored all 11 of her points in the decisive first half. Junior Raven Anderson added six points, seven rebounds, three assists and a block.