The Northern Arizona women's basketball team is showing that its growing pains are getting better.
The Lumberjacks carried over the momentum of a strong second half against Montana State into their Thursday home win against Weber State, with three players showing their latest success hasn't been a fluke.
In the Monday loss at Montana State, Jacey Bailey finished with 13 points, with nine coming in the second half. It was her first double-digit scoring output since Northern Arizona's season-opening win against Fresno State.
The improved shooting continued for the sophomore. Coming off the bench against Weber, Bailey tallied her first-ever double-double with team on 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Also trending upward for the Jacks are Peyton Carroll and Lauren Orndoff, who combined for 32 points in the 74-64 win over Weber that snapped a six-game losing skid. Orndoff is averaging 15 points per game for the past three outings, all Big Sky Conference games, and Carroll is at 10.3 during that stretch after going through a slump of her own.
Northern Arizona also committed just 10 turnovers against Weber, matching a season low as the team is averaging 17.6 per game.
After the victory in the Walkup Skydome, Lumberjacks head coach Loree Payne said she's not surprised that her team is showing improvements toward the start of the conference schedule, adding that her players and staff know what they are capable of.
But Weber was on a six-game skid as well and remained winless in the Big Sky, while Northern Arizona's next opponent has been rolling. Idaho State, picked No. 3 and 4 in the preseason coaches and media polls respectively, has won five of its last six games, including its last two.
Both teams could feel the effects of a busy week come Saturday, which will mark the fourth game each team will have played in a week's span. The Lumberjacks (5-7, 1-2 Big Sky) hold the advantage of being at home where they are 3-1; the Bengals (7-5, 2-1) have a 2-3 road record.
To get past a tough Bengals team that has the second-best defense so far in holding conference teams to just 63.7 points per game, the Lumberjacks, picked 10th in the preseason polls, hope to put together even more of a complete game than they did in their last victory.
Payne said her team is closing in on being able to execute on both ends of the floor for the entire game.
“I wouldn’t say quite four quarters, I think we are about at three – which is an improvement," Payne said after Thursday's win. "I feel we had some defensive breakdowns in the second half, just lacking communication and giving up easy shots. And I feel like we are still not finishing open shots, and that’s one of the things we need to tighten up. We need to make those layups, finish with contact and down the open jumpers, and if we do that, start clicking that way, we will have a lot of success.”
Against Weber, Caitlin Malvar missed an open 3-pointer in the first quarter, and fellow guard Regan Schenck also missed an uncontested jump shot before failing to complete a few layups under the hoop. Schenck, who wasn't in the starting lineup Thursday for the first time this season, went 0 for 4, while Malvar was 1 for 5 with all her shots coming from beyond the arc.
Northern Arizona is shooting 39 percent from the field to start the conference slate and averaging 68.7 points per game. The Lumberjacks are coming off a game in which they hit 44 percent from 3-point range on 8-of-18 shooting, and the team has the league's second-best long-range percentage at the start of conference.
Meanwhile, the Bengals are the worst in the Big Sky at defending the 3, while the Jacks are the best at it so far.
Idaho State allowed its last opponent, Southern Utah, to go 8 of 19 on 3s while managing to hit just 2 of 12 from the perimeter itself, but shot 57 percent from the field en route to the 69-57 win. Forward Grace Kenyon, her team's leading scorer, boosted the Bengals with 21 points, nine boards and three steals in the victory, as four of her teammates ended with 11 or more points.
Northern Arizona would like to see that kind of balanced attack as well from its lineups.
“I think we are getting over that peak of adversity and challenges and really trying to find that groove with our rotation,” Payne said.
Tipoff against Idaho State is set for 2 p.m. Saturday in the Skydome for the second installment of a three-game homestand.