NAU women fall to Southern Utah

CEDAR CITY, Utah — The Northern Arizona women’s basketball team suffered their first Big Sky loss of the season on Saturday, 63-53, to Southern Utah to fall to 6-8 overall and 2-1 in the conference.

The Lumberjacks held a one-point halftime lead, but struggled from the field throughout the game in their attempt to match their best start to the conference season in school history.

"I saw that we have the ability to win on the road tonight," NAU coach Sue Darling said. "We had a tough night putting the ball in the basket, but we really grinded it out on the offensive boards which is what you need to do when you have an off night shooting. Our defense kept us in the game and we got to the free throw line, but the bottom line was we didn’t make our free throws. I was proud of our effort and we did exactly what we need to do to win on the road, but we just did not make our free throws."

The game got out to a slow pace with neither team scoring within the first three minutes until Southern Utah put in the first basket. NAU struggled against SUU offensively from the onset as the Thunderbirds claimed an 11-2 lead eight minutes into the game.

The Lumberjacks started to find an offensive rhythm in large part to getting to the charity stripe and eventually tied the game at 13-all following a three by sophomore Rene Coggins with 8:34 before half. The even score would be the first of four until senior Raven Anderson’s three-point play under five minutes gave the Lumberjacks their first lead at 21-20. SUU reclaimed the lead but was held scoreless for the final 2:28 of the first half in which sophomore Brittani Lusain and senior Erikka Banks combined for the final four points to push NAU in front 28-27 at the half.

After the Thunderbirds took the lead coming out of the intermission, back-to-back jumpers by Coggins and junior Mariah Willadsen put NAU back in front, 36-35, five minutes into the half. The teams hung close with the Lumberjacks staying within striking distance, 50-45, with 7:08 to play before the Thunderbirds used a decisive 8-0 run over the next three and a half minutes to put the game out of reach.

Willadsen attempted to bring the Lumberjacks back getting to the line and knocking down five free throws to keep NAU around by as a little as seven, but the final margin proved to be too much to overcome.

Willadsen notched her fourth straight double-digit scoring effort with a team-high 13 points. Anderson posted her third double-double in as many Big Sky games with 12 points and a game-high 15 rebounds. Banks, Lusain and Coggins each recorded eight points apiece.

NAU shot only 23.4 percent from the field, its lowest field goal percentage of the season, and despite outrebounding Southern Utah by a 51-44 margin, it was hurt by shooting just 60 percent from the line. The Lumberjacks were able to get 10 more attempts at the free throw line than the Thunderbirds, but only wound up with a plus-four margin in makes.

The Lumberjacks did continue their intensity on the glass in conference play, with Anderson, Banks and Lusain all grabbing at least eight boards, as well as their defensive effort holding the Thunderbirds to 37.5 percent field goal clip.