After three straight weeks on the road, the Northern Arizona women's basketball team (6-16, 5-8 Big Sky) returns home to host Northern Colorado (13-9, 10-3 Big Sky) at 6:35 p.m. tonight in a Valentine's Day clash.
Today's contest and NAU's game against North Dakota on Saturday will both be played in Rolle Activity Center.
"We have a lot of room for improvement; that weekend was not our best weekend at all," NAU senior guard Tyler Stephens-Jenkins said regarding NAU's games at Northern Colorado and North Dakota three weeks ago. "We're coming out hungry and want to beat both of these teams. These are two big games that we need and they should be exciting to watch."
NAU is coming off a stretch of five road games over the last three weeks that began at Northern Colorado, as the team played in five states and three time zones during the period. With the tough stretch behind them, the Lumberjacks will play five of their last seven regular season contests in Flagstaff, where they have fared well in Big Sky play.
To close their road trip last Saturday the Lumberjacks erased a 12-point second half deficit to win at Eastern Washington for their largest comeback victory of the season. NAU trailed by six points with just over three minutes to play before going on an 11-0 run to rally for the win. Seniors Amy Patton and Stephens-Jenkins and sophomore Erikka Banks keyed the run offensively while junior Amanda Frost and senior Aubrey Davis led a strong defensive effort during the stretch as they forced three Eagle turnovers and five missed shots to cue the comeback.
The team swept the season series from Eastern Washington -- which is still in third place in the conference -- and won in Cheney for the first time since 2007. NAU had also rallied from down 19 points to take a brief lead two weeks ago at Sacramento State but was unable to hold off the Hornets for a win in that contest.
Northern Colorado comes to Flagstaff as the hottest team in the Big Sky as the Bears are riding a six-game winning streak. The streak started with a 69-54 win over NAU in Greeley on Jan. 24. Senior Lauren Oosdyke made 11 of 12 2-point field goal attempts in that game while scoring 24 points to lead the Bears while Patton scored 14 points to lead NAU.
Today's game will be televised live on FOX Sports Arizona Plus, FOX College Sports, and NAU-TV.
Heading into the stretch run of the Big Sky Conference season, the NAU men are among the qualifiers for the Big Sky Conference Tournament. But the six remaining games will play a big role in the final standings and the postseason hopes of the team.
"Northern Colorado is one game behind us and North Dakota is one game ahead of us so it is a big weekend in the conference," head coach Jack Murphy said. "Every game and every week is big at this point of the season. We are excited to get on the road and play well."
The Lumberjacks are currently seventh in the team standings, a spot that would qualify for the postseason. But NAU (6-8) is just one game ahead of Northern Colorado (5-9), setting the stage for a key game against the Bears today in Greeley. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. and the game can be heard on 105.1 FM The Big Talker.
"Northern Colorado is a talented and young team," Murphy said. "They are coming off a great win at Montana State where they played really well. They traditionally play better at home than on the road anyway. It is going to be a test and a challenge."
The Lumberjacks posted a 67-65 victory over the Bears in Flagstaff on Jan. 24 and a sweep of UNC would assist the postseason chances.
NAU travels to North Dakota on Saturday and also plays road games at Montana State and Montana over the final regular season weekend. NAU plays their final home games on Feb. 28 against Idaho State and March 2 against Weber State.
NAU won the first meeting between the teams this season on a Michael Dunn buzzer beater. Prior to that, the Bears had posted four straight wins over the Lumberjacks and own a 9-8 overall mark in the series. Former NAU player and assistant Will Hensley is a member of the Bear staff.
Senior Gabe Rogers has been the hottest player for the Lumberjacks over the last few weeks. He has made three or more 3-pointers in six of the last seven games, and has averaged 22.0 points per game in the last seven contests, scoring in double figures in nine straight games.
Editor's Note: NAU's Sports Information Department contributed to this roundup.