NAU women cruise past Santa Barbara behind inside presence

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — The Northern Arizona women’s basketball team shot 57 percent, broke a halftime tie and cruised to their second consecutive victory Thursday night, 79-56 at UC Santa Barbara to begin a two-game road swing through California.

The 23-point win is the third-largest by the Lumberjacks since the start of the 2007-08 season as they evened their season record to 2-2.

“It was an unbelievable team win and it was another great night on defense and rebounding,” NAU coach Sue Darling said. “Brittani Lusain had 13 assists led to 57 percent shooting and we got the ball where we wanted. We stayed in attack mode and on defense we were sitting in a zone that took them out of their game in the second half. We were able to attack them in transition and in the lane and we did a nice job of finishing tonight.”

Despite controlling the majority of the first half, the Lumberjacks went into the locker rooms locked in a 30-30 tie after 20 minutes of play. That quickly changed in the second half as NAU broke the game wide open with a 13-0 run that gave itself a 45-32 advantage that would only grow as time went on. Freshman Brittani Lusain’s two free throws snapped a 32-all score on the board and by the time junior Erikka Banks forced a UCSB stoppage four minutes later with a layup, the Lumberjacks were in front by 13 with just over 14 minutes to play.

The Gauchos temporarily stopped the NAU barrage with a three-pointer out of the timeout, but Lusain’s jumper on the next possession kick-started another 11-2 Lumberjack run that extended their lead out to 19. An And-1 by Banks put NAU ahead by 20 with 6:48 remaining and the Lumberjacks’ advantage would grow to as large as 27 in the final minutes.

The second 20 minutes of play was a stark contrast to the first 20 minutes as the Gauchos hung around and never let the Lumberjacks pull away. NAU controlled the paint in the first half and ran its offense on point, getting layups repeatedly. Of NAU’s 30 first half points, 24 came in the paint, yet UC Santa Barbara kept it close by answering every NAU spurt with a run of its own. A Gaucho basket right before the half brought the home team to even on the scoreboard before the Lumberjacks seized control after the intermission.

NAU shot 63 percent in the second half and limited UCSB to 36 percent for the game, 30 percent in the second half. The Lumberjacks had 54 points in the paint compared to just 14 by the Gauchos and Lusain’s 13 assists was a big reason for that. She equaled the second-highest single game total in school history also posted the highest assist total for any NAU player since Sade Cunningham also recorded 13 helpers on Jan. 10, 2009.

“I’m very proud of my team and it was a team win,” Lusain said. “Coach Darling always tells us to pass it to our teammates when they’re open and we’ll get easy shots. We moved the ball around and found easy layups and that’s works best for us.”

Lusain notched her first career double-double and nearly missed a triple-double with 12 points and eight rebounds to go along with her 13 assists. Banks posted her second straight double-double with 23 points, just two shy of her career-high, and 13 rebounds while helping NAU to a 39-29 rebounding edge.

All together, the Lumberjacks had five players in double-figures with sophomore Raven Anderson adding 14 off the bench and senior Amanda Frost and freshman Priscilla Brooks each totaling 12.