SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Northern Arizona women's basketball team gave Utah a scare and showcased resiliency in coming up short of an upset bid Wednesday afternoon in their non-conference finale. Despite instantly falling behind 11-0 to start the game, the Lumberjacks battled back on numerous occasions against the undefeated Utes before succumbing, 78-65. NAU will take a 4-7 record into the start of conference play.
"I liked our overall effort and we worked hard the entire game," said interim head coach Robyne Bostick. "Once we settled down, we did what we wanted to do. We got some stops on defense and turned that into transition points. Their offensive rebounding hurt us in the fourth quarter and giving up second and third shot opportunities took the wind out of our sails. Overall, we just have to be a little tougher mentally for 40 minutes."
The Utes entered with an unblemished 10-0 record and a No. 9 ranking in the NCAA RPI, and took it to the 'Jacks from the tip-off. Utah got out to an 11-0 lead and then 15-2 within the first five and a half minutes, before NAU regained its composure.
Trailing 18-10 after the first quarter, the Lumberjacks received a huge lift from redshirt junior Kenna McDavis in the second quarter. McDavis scored nine of her 11 points in the game during the second period in which NAU outscored Utah 20-16. The Lumberjacks shot a game-best 46.7 percent from the field and made 4-of-9 from behind the arc with McDavis knocking down three of those treys.
After an initial run by NAU, which cut Utah's lead to three points, the Utes extended their lead back out to eight. The Lumberjacks followed with a 7-0 run capped by a jumper from senior Taylor Leyva and were within one at 31-30, only for Utah to hit a three-pointer as the first half expired to preserve a 34-30 halftime lead.
Even after Utah pushed its lead out to 11 with 2:28 left in the third quarter, NAU collected itself to respond. Redshirt junior Olivia Lucero jumpstarted a 7-0 run over the next minute and change with a three-pointer and then closed the quarter with a nifty crossover to the rim resulting in a buzzer-beating layup to keep the Lumberjacks in striking distance at 55-51.
Unfortunately for NAU, Utah avoided the upset with a strong finish to the game. Using six offensive rebounds leading to 10 second chance points, the Utes held off the 'Jacks to keep their undefeated record intact. NAU struggled offensively making just one field goal in the first six and a half minutes as it trailed by as much as 20 in the final quarter. The Lumberjacks did manage to close with a flurry on a 7-0 run with senior Rene Coggins and Lucero combining for the seven points.
Coggins and Lucero were the team's high scorers with 17 and 16 points respectively. Coggins added two three-pointers to her career total, bringing her to 137 – good for fourth in school history as she jumped two spots in the school record books in the same game.
Senior Brittani Lusain matched her season-best with six assists, which also allowed her climbed her way up the school record books. She currently sits with 332 career assists, also ranked fourth in NAU history. She added six points and eight rebounds to her well-rounded stat line.
Although the Lumberjacks were outshot 42.4 percent to 31.3 percent for the game, NAU stood out in a couple of areas. Utah – ranked 13th in the country with a +11.5 rebounding margin entering the game – only outrebounded the 'Jacks, 48-43. NAU received exceptional efforts on the glass by Lusain and sophomore Kaleigh Paplow, both of whom recorded eight boards, as well as Leyva who totaled seven rebounds herself.
The 'Jacks also turned the ball over just nine times and notched 15 assists on 21 made baskets. NAU has now committed 10 or less turnovers in four of its last six games and heads into its Big Sky opener at Southern Utah on Dec. 31 with a lot of positives despite its overall mark.
"Utah was probably the best team we'll play and the Pac-12 has been the best conference in the country the last couple of years," Bostick said. "It's good that we saw we could play with a team like this and our non-conference play has put us in a good position to start conference. We were in a position to win each game and once we play with a little more consistency, we'll be in an even better position starting with Southern Utah on the 31st."
NAU's first conference game in Cedar City will tip-off at 2 p.m. Last season, the teams split their two season meetings with each team winning on their home court.