Preston Leads Team Effort as 'Jacks Outlast Hornets, 91-88

Catelyn Preston
Catelyn Preston

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona women's basketball team ran with and ultimately outgunned Sacramento State to post their second straight win, 91-88, Thursday night in the Walkup Skydome. The Lumberjacks received a career-high scoring effort by senior Catelyn Preston among five players in double-figures to improve to 8-18 overall and 4-11 in the conference.

"Knowing that they like to push the tempo, I felt that we could match that tempo with our guards and our team overall," said interim head coach Robyne Bostick. "We have good ball handlers who can break their press without too much trouble, and once we broke the press we should be able to turn 3-on-2s and 4-on-3s into scoring opportunities."

The Lumberjacks shot 50.7 percent for the game and outrebounded the Hornets, 48-45, to overcome a minus-11 margin in the turnover column against Sacramento State's pressure defense. NAU also notched a season-high 24 assists on 35 made field goals with freshman Raina Perez recording seven helpers – equaling the high water mark she set for herself earlier this season.

Meanwhile, Preston notched her third straight double-double with a career-high 24 points to go along with 11 rebounds. Along with sophomore Kaleigh Paplow's own double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds, the Lumberjacks had a pair of players register double-doubles for the second straight outing.

Redshirt junior Olivia Lucero finished second on the team with 17 points while knocking down a team-best three triples in addition to pulling down seven boards. Perez scored 16 points herself, while senior Taylor Leyva came off the bench to score 12 points to round out NAU's five double-digit scorers – one game after the Lumberjacks had six players reach double-figures.

"My teammates work so hard day in and day out in practice," Lucero said. "If Raina is going to be the leading scorer one night, that's fantastic. If it's Cate, it's amazing. It's awesome to see everyone go in and contribute. I'm proud of everyone and getting these last two wins gives us some momentum going into the tournament."

NAU came out firing against the nation's fourth-leading three-point shooting team by draining five of its nine treys in the opening quarter in jumping out to a 26-15 advantage. The Lumberjacks recorded assists on eight of their first 10 buckets and rode the energy of their home crowd to an 11-3 finish to the quarter.

Leyva helped NAU withstand the first of many runs by Sacramento State by scoring seven straight Lumberjack points to keep the home team in front by five, 40-35, with 2:18 left before half after leading by as many as 13. The 'Jacks then received a boost from Preston as her floater along the baseline beat the halftime buzzer to send NAU into the intermission with a 44-39 lead.

The NAU advantage was nine four minutes into the third period before the Hornets engaged on a 13-2 run to take a 62-60 lead. The two teams would ultimately go into the fourth quarter knotted up at 71-all only for Preston to open up the last period with seven points during a 12-2 start by NAU.

Still, the Lumberjacks were unable to completely pull away from the Hornets as an 86-76 lead dwindled to 86-84 over a three-minute span before a Perez lay-up halted an 8-0 Sacramento State run with 90 seconds on the clock. Sacramento State would hit a three to cut within 91-88 with 12 seconds left, but its final attempt to tie the game was off the mark on the last possession of the game.

"In the huddle, I kept telling the team to not worry about their runs," Preston said. "We would be up by 10 and then we were down one. Then we would be up by 10 again and then it would only be a five-point lead. Being able to withstand their runs proved to be really beneficial tonight."

The Lumberjacks look to close their home schedule with one final win in the Dome this season on Saturday versus Portland State. The Senior Day tip-off for the team's six seniors will be 2 p.m. with Chelena Betoney, Rene Coggins, Bradlee Cotton, Brittani Lusain, Leyva and Preston being honored prior to the game.