NAU WBB put up worst offensive performance of season in 70-61 loss to Southern Utah
While the score make look close, the NAU women's basketball team struggled mightily on the offensive side as they shot a season-low 35% in a 70-61 loss to Southern Utah.
Trench warfare was the name of the game Saturday afternoon inside the Walkup Skydome as both Southern Utah and the NAU women’s basketball team focused on attacking the paint.
In the end, it was the Thunderbirds using their size to their advantage and leaving Flagstaff with a 70-61 win and a perfect 4-0 record in the Big Sky Conference.
“We had a poor offensive night,” NAU head coach Loree Payne. “Our big scorers weren’t scoring, we couldn’t find a flow and I’m at a loss for words at our free-throw shooting. How can you be one of the top shooting teams in the conference and in the nation, but be as terrible at the line as we are?”
The Lumberjacks’ offense was poor on all fronts.
From two-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws, it was all bad for NAU as they had their worst shooting performance of the year at 35%. The team also shot 5/19 from beyond the arc, which was also their worst of the season.
Forward Nina Radford, who entered the game second in the nation in 3-point percentage (55.6%), had a miserable performance as she scored just seven points and shot 1/7 from beyond the arc (including an airball).
Taking the reins of the scoring for the Lumberjacks was forward Emily Rodabaugh as she led NAU with 13 points on 5/10 shooting.
“We couldn't get over that four-to-six point hump,” Rodabaugh said. “They’d go on a run and we couldn’t respond to counter what they were doing. There were moments where we could’ve flipped the script, but we didn’t do what we needed to do.”
The free-throw shooting continues to haunt the Lumberjacks as they were just 14/21 from the charity stripe. They are now shooting 67.3% at the line, which puts the program near the bottom 100 in the nation.
As per usual, NAU struggled on the boards as they were -12.
The Lumberjacks had a golden opportunity in the third quarter to even the game up down just one possession, but poor shot selection and killer SUU offensive rebounds allowed the Thunderbirds to end the third quarter on an 8-0 run to increase their lead to double digits.
Payne said that the battle of the boards and the missed free throws hurt their game equally.
“I’m not saying we need to shoot 100% at the line, but we got to be at least 75-80% because those are big points in a closely-contested game,” Payne said. “The rebounds really expose the toughness issue. It’s ridiculous and one of my biggest pet peeves to give up an O-board off a missed free throw.”
While the positives were minimal for NAU Saturday, they had one in second-year freshman Olivia Moran who backed up her breakout performance against Idaho Dec. 30 with a 10-point performance in just 19 minutes played.
Moran is set to become a key role player for the Lumberjacks moving forward with guard JJ Nakai out again and Teionni McDaniel and Miki’ala Maio missing the last two games.
“It’s been tough not getting a lot of minutes this season,” Moran said. “When I do get in, I have to tell myself to be solid and not get too crazy, but keep the energy up.”
Speaking of energy, forward Sierra Mich’l got into some extracurricular activities in the paint as she was not afraid to get physical and managed to pick up her third technical foul of the season.
While Payne said she doesn’t want her players picking up those fouls, she admitted that this is who Mich’l is as a player.
“She’s really hard to officiate,” Payne said. “She’s all over the place and she’s relentless. We sorta talk about how she’s the most unathletic athletic player I’ve ever coached.”
Rodabaugh said that her physicality is needed to add an extra spark for the team.
“There’s a lot of people that don’t like guarding people like Sierra or Regan [Schenck],” Rodabaugh said. “They swear they never touch anybody. Having them be so willing to put themselves out there for the team like that fires everyone else up. She may have received a technical, but we have her back.”
While Southern Utah struggled offensively in the second half shooting just 30% like NAU, four players were in double digits for the team as guard Cherita Daugherty had a game-high 18 points for the team.
Following her were guard Samantha Johnston and forward Darri Dotson, who each had 15 points while guard Daylani Ballena added 11 in the winning effort. Dotson also grabbed 10 boards to complete a double-double performance prior to fouling out with around two minutes left.
NAU falls back to a .500 record as they are now 6-6 and sit third in the Big Sky with a record of 3-1.
Next up for the Lumberjacks will be a quick turnaround to Sacramento, California for a date with Sac State (4-8, 0-3 Big Sky) Monday evening at 8:00 p.m. MST.
For Southern Utah, they will look to go 5-0 in the Big Sky as they return home to Cedar City Thursday for a matchup against Montana (10-4, 3-2 Big Sky).