Head coach Sue Darling may have said she saw a good, solid and steady team effort out of her Lumberjacks Thursday night, but it's possible she wasn't watching the same game as everyone else.
The Northern Arizona women dropped their 17th game of the season and fell to 5-9 in the Big Sky Conference with an embarrassing 71-43 loss to the Northern Colorado (14-9, 11-3) Bears at the Rolle Activity Center Thursday night.
Playing at Rolle because of NAU's track and field meet taking place at the Dome, the Jacks may have suffered from early-season deja vu.
The Lumberjacks started the season at Rolle and suffered from lack of effort and intensity in early losses.
That looked exactly like the Lumberjacks that were on the same floor Thursday night.
NAU only trailed by eight points going into halftime, and the Jacks started off strong to get within four to begin the second half, but then frustration and a fall-off in effort and intensity set in and suddenly fans saw the same old Lumberjacks.
Darling gave no comment other than to say her team gave a great effort and it was her fault for not preparing her girls better for UNC's zone.
"Their zone stymied us, and I will take full responsibility for that," Darling said. "I did not prepare the team adequately to handle that zone."
Not preparing the team for UNC's zone defense was obvious as NAU turned the ball over 12 times and missed shot after shot while visibly frustrated with the Bears' defense.
"We played incredible defense in the first half and played incredible defense in the first part of the second half to get the game within four points," Darling said. "I was very proud of our effort, I was very proud of our energy, and I was very proud of our teamwork, especially on defense."
To say her team gave a good effort to the end was nonsense. The Lumberjacks' mounting frustration and missing effort were clear as NAU ended up turning that four-point UNC lead into a 28-point loss.
While the Jacks' defense was mediocre in the first half -- NAU had five steals and forced eight UNC turnovers -- it was by no means incredible. The only reason the Bears' lead wasn't bigger was because UNC shot 41.4 percent in the first half and missed a lot of open and easy shots.
Amy Patton was the only NAU player to break into double figures to lead the Lumberjacks with 14 points, and she and Raven Anderson each grabbed six rebounds for NAU. Patton shot 2-for-4 in the first half for just four points, and didn't have a choice but to pick up her scoring as the rest of the team started its downward spiral in the second half. The only player beside Patton showing any effort late was Amanda Frost, but Frost left the court with 6 minutes and 20 seconds to play after a strange collision left her limping on her good leg. She did return but didn't contribute anything more.
D'shara Strange lit up the Jacks for 21 points and 14 rebounds as the Bears' one-woman wrecking crew, while Molly Duehn scored 14 and Lauren Oosdyke added 13 for UNC.
NAU was outplayed in every aspect of the game, giving up 17 points off 12 turnovers, letting the Bears outscore them in the paint 32-28, scoring 11 points on second-chance baskets and even out-running the Jacks for 14 fast-break points.
The Lumberjacks even struggled at the free-throw line, making just 10 of 18 shots. NAU shot even worse from the floor with a 28.6 shooting percentage that included a 1-for-15 night from behind the 3-point line.
NAU will host North Dakota Saturday at 2:35 p.m. at Rolle.
Bill Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2251.