PHOENIX, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona suffered through a tough defensive third quarter, then ended the game on a six-minute scoring drought in an eventual 76-65 loss at Grand Canyon on Monday. The Lopes outscored the 'Jacks, 28-16, in the pivotal third period and they were never able to completely recover in falling to 4-6 on the season.
"Overall I liked our effort, and our effort has been good in both wins and losses," said interim head coach Robyne Bostick. "One thing that needs to get better especially as we head up to Utah on Wednesday and as we get into conference is our defense. We need to lock down better and we need to take more pride in our defense. There was a stretch in the fourth quarter when we held them to five points in seven or eight minutes and that's the type of defensive intensity we need for 40 minutes."
Grand Canyon seized the momentum by shooting 10-for-11 in the third quarter and made all four of its attempts from long distance. The Lopes' offensive explosion erased what was a 10-point NAU lead in the second quarter and turned the advantage in their favor by as many as 11 in the period.
A trio of products out of the Phoenix area shined in their homecomings with redshirt junior Olivia Lucero pacing the 'Jacks with 18 points. She knocked down a season-high four of NAU's 11 threes. She also led the team with a season-high six assists, and grabbed four rebounds in the loss.
Freshman Raina Perez and redshirt junior Kenna McDavis also matched their season-high outputs with 13 and 12 points respectively. They combined to make five threes between them. As a team, NAU made 11-of-32 from behind the arc, reaching the double-digit mark for the third straight game. But their three-point barrage was not enough to overcome a sluggish defensive third period.
The Lumberjacks held a 39-36 lead at halftime, and led wire-to-wire in the first half after opening the game with an 8-0 burst. Senior Bradlee Cotton opened the scoring with a layup and was followed by triples from Lucero and senior Rene Coggins as NAU scored the game's first eight points within the opening two minutes. After GCU closed to 12-11, NAU closed the first quarter on an 8-2 run to lead 19-13 at the end of the period.
The Lopes once again made a push in the second quarter, getting within a single point at 21-20. Yet, the Lumberjacks countered once more with an 8-0 run and following consecutive threes by Perez and McDavis, they held their largest advantage at 34-24 with 3:43 remaining in the first half.
A strong Grand Canyon finish to cut its deficit to three going into the intermission carried over out of the break with the Lopes unconsciously hot. Jessica Gajewski, who finished the game with 31 points, single-handedly brought GCU all the way back out of halftime scoring 18 points in the third quarter and converting on all seven of her field goal attempts. Gajewski's outburst put the Lopes in front for good, but the Lumberjacks did not go away quietly.
Instead, NAU rode McDavis who scored five straight points to cap a fourth-quarter opening 8-2 run. Following her layup with 6:02 left, the Lumberjacks had cut their deficit to 66-65 but would not score the rest of the way. NAU missed its final six shots from the field all while keeping Grand Canyon to just five points through the first 8:40 of the final period. A critical second-chance GCU putback ultimately proved to be the backbreaker for NAU as it snapped the Lopes' own scoring drought and pushed their lead out to 71-65 entering the final minute of play.
"In any game that is a game of runs and you find yourselves down, there's a little more pressure on each possession," Bostick said. "We got some good looks during that stretch (in the fourth quarter), but it was unfortunate we couldn't knock down those shots because our defense, at that point, was able to keep us in the game."
Grand Canyon outshot NAU, 45 percent to 36.4 percent for the game, and earned the bragging rights in the in-state battle despite being outscored on points off turnovers (19-8), second chance points (17-11) and fastbreak points (11-6).
NAU did not do itself any favors by only making 6-of-12 at the charity stripe and the 'Jacks were outrebounded 47-38. Senior Brittani Lusain (nine rebounds) and sophomore Kaleigh Paplow (eight rebounds) led NAU on the glass.
The Lumberjacks conclude non-conference play on Wednesday at Utah. The Utes are a perfect 10-0 this season. Tip-off from Salt Lake City is 2 p.m.