The Northern Arizona Lumberjacks men’s basketball team is in need of a win following a three-game losing skid.
Before last week Northern Arizona (7-16, 5-8 Big Sky) had won three of four, but a road loss to Eastern Washington and back-to-back home losses to Idaho State and Weber State knocked the Lumberjacks a notch down in the Big Sky standings.
This week the Lumberjacks get road rematches with Portland State (9-14, 4-8 Big Sky) on Thursday and Sacramento State (10-11, 4-8 Big Sky) on Saturday. Northern Arizona split the home series against the Vikings and the Hornets, beating the former and losing to the latter on a last-second shot.
“You gotta come and compete,” Lumberjacks head coach Jack Murphy said of the week’s slate of games. “If you don’t come and compete against either one of them you’ll get beat -- they’re good teams. Portland State’s two wins on the road are at Weber and at Montana, and Sac State has been in every game. Every single game. The first half against Southern Utah was probably the last time they were kinda getting blown out.”
Since losing in Flagstaff to the Lumberjacks, Portland State has been streaky. The Vikings won three straight after the loss but have now dropped their past three games -- including a 78-67 road loss to Sacramento State. Yet the Vikings have done well against two of the Big Sky’s top teams -- Montana and Weber State. The Vikings split the season series to Weber and each game was decided by single digits.
Northern Arizona beat the Vikings 82-75 in mid-January, holding the Vikings to just two fast-break points. In Northern Arizona’s last loss to Weber, the Wildcats had 16 points on the break.
Sacramento State has also gone 3-3 in its past six games with losses to Eastern Washington, Weber and Northern Colorado. The Hornets’ wins have come over teams near them in the standings in Idaho, Idaho State and Portland State.
In the three wins the Hornets played some of their best defense of the season, holding teams to an average of 58 points per game.
The Lumberjacks defense as a whole struggled over the three-game skid -- allowing an average of 83 points per game. The offense didn’t help the defense much either, struggling to keep up on that end at times over the stretch.
“Obviously I think part of it is the defensive intensity, the defensive focus, defensive mindset. Against Weber State we actually, in the halfcourt, guarded them pretty well in the first 12 minutes or so,” Murphy said. “But when you let teams get out in transition -- and Weber State is really, really good in transition -- it’s difficult to defend that. It’s where a majority of their points were coming from and we need to do a better job of running good offense, executing good offense and have that filter over into good defense.”
With seven conference games remaining before the Big Sky Conference Tournament, the Lumberjacks are tied with Idaho State for seventh in the standings -- a game-and-a-half back of sixth-place Eastern Washington.
Both Thursday’s and Saturday’s games are set for 8 p.m. start times.