CHENEY, Wash. – A tough shooting night from long distance plagued the Northern Arizona women's basketball team in a 79-64 defeat to Eastern Washington Friday night. The Lumberjacks shot just 19 percent from three-point range in dropping their final regular season game. NAU, owners of a 9-19 overall record and a 5-13 mark in league play, will go into the Big Sky Championships at the No. 10 seed and will face the No. 7 seed Portland State in the first round on Monday.
"I would guess that their game plan going into the game was to take away our outside shooting," said interim head coach Robyne Bostick. "That's what opened things up for us in terms of getting to the basket. Rebounding and the second chance points that Eastern got hurt us more than anything. We didn't box out and we weren't going after rebounds in the first half."
Senior Brittani Lusain's first basket of the game – a layup with 3:15 left in the first quarter – pushed her into elite company as the 16th player in school history to reach the 1,000 career point threshold. Along with senior Rene Coggins – who herself eclipsed 1,000 points last week – NAU now has a pair of active 1,000 point teammates for the first time since 2007. Lusain finished the game with seven points along with five rebounds and three assists.
NAU had three players in double-figures led by sophomore Kaleigh Paplow, who was 6-for-8 from the field and successful on all six of her free throw attempts on her way to 18 points to go with seven rebounds. Freshman Raina Perez (12) and senior Catelyn Preston (10) also recorded double-digit points.
But NAU's three-point shooting woes combined with Eastern Washington's efficient shooting performance was enough to deny the Lumberjacks of their fourth win in five games heading into the conference tournament. The Eagles shot 44.9 percent from the field and 35 percent from behind the arc to clinch the Big Sky's final first round bye and the No. 4 seed.
The Lumberjacks never led in the game as the Eagles scored the game's first five points. Lusain chipped away at Eastern Washington's lead with her first two buckets, but the Eagles would go into the second quarter with a 20-15 lead. After Coggins brought the Lumberjacks within two, 90 seconds into the second period, the Eagles went on a modest – but deciding – 6-0 run that pushed their lead to 26-18 with six minutes left before half. NAU never got closer than it was at the time of Coggins' layup the rest of the way.
Eastern Washington really took flight to open the third quarter with an 11-4 run that extended its halftime lead to a game-high 19 points, 51-32. However, the 'Jacks had a run in them and used their transition game to slash the lead to 54-45 over a four-minute span following a pair of free throws by freshman Raina Perez with 2:23 left in the period.
"I did like the way we ran in transition and attacked the basket in the second half," Bostick said. "It allowed us to stay in the game. We knew if we were able put the ball on the floor and get to the basket, we would be able to the free throw line as well. It was good to see us getting to the free throw line and knock it down as well."
NAU made eight of its 12 shot attempts in the third quarter in its best 10 minutes of the game, but it was not enough as the Lumberjacks' deficit ballooned back up to as much as 18 in the fourth quarter. The Lumberjacks did get to the line seven times in the final period and made all seven of their attempts.
While Perez, who finished just 4-for-13 from the floor, struggled with her shot on Friday, she did post a team-high six assists with just one turnover to help NAU post a 41.8 field goal percentage despite its three-point struggles. Senior Taylor Leyva also scored seven points and grabbed eight rebounds in a season-high 34 minutes.
Eastern Washington narrowly outrebounded NAU, 37-36, and held key advantages in points in the paint (44-34), points off turnovers (14-6) and second chance points (14-11).
The Lumberjacks open up the Big Sky Championships on Monday at 6:30 p.m. Arizona time versus the Vikings. Portland State was victorious in both season meetings versus NAU this season, but both wins were by one point. The teams just met last Saturday, Feb. 25, in the Skydome when the Vikings claimed a 74-73 overtime victory.