NAU women drop Big Sky opener to Montana

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — An 18-0 Montana run over a five-minute stretch midway through the first half proved to be a game changer as the Northern Arizona women’s basketball team suffered a 87-67 loss in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams Thursday night.

Freshman Rene Coggins had her best game of her young career, but it was not enough as NAU fell to 3-7 overall and 0-1 in conference play.

"We pressed them in the second half and our improved intensity on defense helped our offense," NAU coach Sue Darling said. "We outscored them in the second half. Montana is a quality team and they turn the ball over 12 times a game, and tonight they turned it over 22 times. If we played the first half the way we played the second half, it would’ve been a different outcome."

The defending Big Sky champions jumped on the Lumberjacks early, racing out to a 9-2 lead in the first five minutes. The Lady Griz’s lead ballooned to 32-6 by the 7:28 mark courtesy of their 18-0 run, but NAU held them to five points over the next five minutes while stringing together a 9-0 run of their own to cut its deficit to 37-19. Four different Lumberjacks scored during that stretch including treys by Coggins and senior Amanda Frost.

Down 45-19 at the half, the Lumberjacks found themselves down 40 at 85-45 with 4:38 to play despite a completely improved showing on the offensive end. Although the Lumberjacks would come up short on the scoreboard, it was not without a furious effort down the stretch. Junior Erikka Banks’ layup on the ensuing possession after NAU fell behind by 40 initiated a game-ending 22-2 run by the Lumberjacks. Frost contributed 12 of her team-high 24 points and freshman Catelyn Preston added four points in the game’s final minutes as NAU sliced its deficit in half by the end of the game.

"Our focus at the end of the game was to make each other better and close out the game as best as we could," Frost said. "I think the way we finished will take us into the Montana State game."

Frost’s 24 points paced the Lumberjacks and she knocked down four three-pointers as well as a career-high six assists. Coggins equaled Frost’s four triples en route to a career-high 16 points and Bankks chipped in 12 points and eight rebounds. Junior Raven Anderson had a game-high nine rebounds and Banks, Frost and freshman Brittani Lusain each had three steals.

"My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball and I was trying to do what I could to contribute by hitting my shots," Coggins said. "Looking forward, our team is improving every night."

Montana shot 56.1 percent for the game and NAU shot just 37.9 percent, although it shot 53.1 percent in the second half while outscoring the Lady Griz 48-42. Between Coggins and Frost, the Lumberjacks hit a season-best eight threes although they were outrebounded 43-31.

The Lumberjacks will host Montana State Saturday night in the Skydome at 6:30 p.m. to end a three-game homestand this week.