All it took was a little more than three minutes for Idaho to build a double-digit lead, and unfortunately for the Northern Arizona women's basketball team, that lead held Wednesday evening.
Redshirt senior Olivia Lucero had a career-high 36 points in the 93-83 defeat for the Lumberjacks (7-21, 4-13 Big Sky) in the Walkup Skydome.
"Idaho is a very good team and they have a lethal combination with their shooters," said Lumberjacks head coach Loree Payne. "I felt like we played well tonight minus the first four minutes of the game when their shooters got hot. The biggest difference was rebounding, though. We gave up 12 offensive boards which led to 17 points and some of those came at critical times."
Points were aplenty, with both teams shooting at least 50 percent. The Lumberjacks actually outshot the Vandals (52.4 percent to 50 percent), but the Vandals hit four more 3-pointers than the Jacks (11-7). NAU shot a season-best 63.6 percent from behind the arc.
Two areas that also proved to be big differences were points off turnovers and second-chance points, and Idaho held commanding advantages. Idaho outscored NAU 17-5 on second-chance opportunities. Both teams limited their turnovers with only 12 combined in the game, but Idaho led 11-2 in points off turnovers.
Lucero was the main beneficiary of the offensive showcase, recording her first career 30-point game. She became the first Lumberjack to score 30 in a game since junior Kaleigh Paplow also totaled 36 points two years ago. Lucero's 36 points are tied for the sixth-most in a game in program history. She shot 13 of 19 from the field and was perfect on all four 3-point attempts and all six free-throw attempts.
Sophomore Peyton Carroll registered a career-high with 14 points off the bench on 7-for-13 shooting. She pulled down a team-best six rebounds. Paplow added 13 points.
The game was won in the first quarter, with Idaho racing out to an 11-2 lead and holding a 24-13 advantage at the end of 10 minutes. The Vandals made four of their first five from long distance while the Lumberjacks, now on a two-game skid, made just 5 of 16 overall in the period.
The double-digit Idaho advantage held throughout the first half as NAU trailed 48-33 at the intermission. The Lumberjacks' 46.7 percent showing was no match for the Vandals' 60.6 percent clip, but the momentum shifted right out of the break in NAU's favor.
With the help of three triples, NAU opened the second half with a 13-5 run in the first three minutes. The Vandals quickly answered with five straight points to make it a 12-point game, although the Lumberjacks were able to close within eight again.
"I was really happy with the way we played moving into Friday and then into the tournament," Payne said. "If we can play the way we did tonight, we'll mix it up big time in the Big Sky (tournament)."
The Lumberjacks and Eastern Washington meet Friday in the Skydome at 6:30 p.m. in the regular-season finale for both teams. Prior to tipoff, Lucero, Kenna McDavis and Chelena Betoney will be honored during Senior Night recognition.
TRACK AND FIELD
The track and field program will cap off its historic indoor season by sending a school-record six athletes to compete at the 2018 NCAA Indoor National Championships March 9-10 in College Station, Texas.
Jasmine Malone (400-meter), Paige Gilchrist (5000m), Brooke Andersen (weight throw), Ashley Taylor (800m), Andy Trouard (3000m/5000m) and Matt Baxter (3000m) all qualified for the indoor national championships, hosted by Texas A&M University at Gilliam Indoor Stadium.
Some NAU athletes knew for sure that they would be advancing to the postseason while others had to wait until the final minute of the NCAA announcement.
Trouard, for example, knew his marks were set as he owns the second-fastest time in the nation in the 3000m (7:48.21) and ninth in the 5000m (13:42.16).
Andersen knew she was advancing after throwing the seventh-best toss in the country of 22.25m in the women's weight throw at the Big Sky Indoor Championships.
Malone was pretty safe as well after going off at the Big Sky Championships and posting a time of 52.60 in the 400m dash, a new NAU and conference record that slotted 10th in the country.
While Gilchrist might have fell slightly to 13th in the nation, her school-record mark of 15:45.76 in the 5000m at the Iowa State Classic held on the national rankings for almost a month, punching her a ticket to NCAAs.
Taylor was the last Lumberjack in after getting some outside help. The redshirt senior was 18th in the country in the 800m (2:04.53) and advanced after two teams scratched athletes, bumping her into the top 16.
Baxter, too, had to wait through the weekend to see if he qualified after his time of 7:53.37 in the 3000m ranked 16th in the nation. The mark held and he is NCAA-bound.
It will be the third appearance in an NCAA Championship for Andersen and Baxter while Trouard qualified for the second time in his career. Gilchrist, Taylor and Malone will all be making their first NCAA appearances.
The NCAA Indoor National Championships will be streamed live on ESPN3. The ESPN feed will start at 4:30 p.m. March 9 and 3 p.m. on March 10. A re-air of the championships will take place starting at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 11, on ESPN2.
Junior Tim Handel was named Big Sky men's tennis Athlete of the Week by the conference office Wednesday after a hard-fought conference-opening victory against Portland State over the weekend.
Against Portland State, Handel paired with Ruben Montano in doubles to best Avery West and Tommy Edwards 7-6 (4) before going on to defeat Nathan Boniel 2-6, 6-4, 7-5.
In doubles, Handel picked up the clinch to give Northern Arizona a 1-0 lead going into singles.
Against Oregon, Handel and Montano finished ahead 6-5 before the doubles point was clinched. In singles, he fell to No. 13 Thomas Laurent 6-3, 6-4.
The Germany native picked up a 2-1 record overall against Portland State and Oregon and helped the Lumberjacks to a 1-0 start in Big Sky action.
Handel and the Lumberjacks will travel to California to compete against LMU and UC Riverside Saturday and Sunday, respectively.