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NAU ROUNDUP

NAU ROUNDUP: Women's basketball's rally against Washington comes up short

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NAU

Erasing a slow start on their offensive end, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks took a two-point lead early on in the second half in the second of their two Pac-12 games to open the 2021-22 season.

However, a run by the Washington Huskies (2-0, 0-0 Pac-12) through the remainder of the third quarter pushed the lead out of reach for the Lumberjacks (0-2, 0-0 Big Sky) Sunday afternoon in Seattle. Holding a 21-point lead in the fourth, the Huskies watched as the Lumberjacks battled back to cut the deficit to five before running out of time as Washington held on for a 72-65 win.

“We had a little bit of a defensive letdown in the third quarter. I just felt like our urgency wasn’t where it needed to be,” said Lumberjacks head coach Loree Payne. “They hit a couple big shots and we end up finding ourselves down by 20. The fact that they came out and just turned it up in the third quarter, it showed them that's the type of urgency and effort that we need to have throughout the entire game.”

Taking their first lead of the game at 25-24 late in the second quarter with back-to-back baskets for Nyah Moran, the Lumberjacks then scored four points out of the break to go ahead 29-27 with a fastbreak layup by Khiarica Rasheed.

Washington quickly answered back to even the score at 29-29 as Nancy Mulkey dropped in a layup that started a 19-2 run for the Huskies to take a 46-31 lead with 2:32 remaining in the third. Northern Arizona trimmed the lead back down to 11 on a three-pointer from Regan Schenck, but Mulkey’s jumper as time expired in the third opened another 9-0 run that stretched to the 7:38 mark of the final quarter.

The Lumberjacks began their uphill climb through the game’s final stretch.

Moran hit a three-pointer to move within 18 before Teionni McDaniel put up five points in a 14-second stretch thanks to her own steal after putting in a pair of free throws.

A jumper by Lauren Orndoff extended the run to 7-0, with Nina Radford scoring seven straight points of her own in the span of less than two minutes. With 1:07 on the clock, the Lumberjacks trailed 66-61 after holding a 63-42 deficit just five minutes earlier.

While the Lumberjacks’ comeback ran out of time, with the Huskies hitting four free throws in the game’s final minute, Payne said she came away from the weekend impressed with the team’s fight.

“I am really proud of the kids. They came up and were not intimidated at all by two solid Pac-12 teams. I thought they battled,” Payne said. “We play a little bit better defense in the third quarter and we knock down some shots out of the gate, and it is potentially a different outcome.”

Northern Arizona scored just six points in the opening quarter, but forced four turnovers while also drawing even with Washington on the boards.

Down 12-6 after the opening quarter, Northern Arizona drew even just 54 seconds into the second quarter off baskets by Radford, McDaniel and Schenck.

Radford and Rasheed tied with a team-high 15 points, followed by nine for Moran. Schenck led the way on the boards with eight, adding four steals as the Lumberjacks forced 24 turnovers against the Huskies, scoring 22 points off the miscues.

Northern Arizona returns to Flagstaff to prepare for its home opener on Wednesday against the UNLV Lady Rebels (2-0, 0-0 Mountain West). Beating Oral Roberts 85-81 in its season opener, UNLV cruised past Montana State, voted to finish second in the Big Sky, 80-42 on Saturday in Las Vegas.

VOLLEYBALL

Junior Taylor Jacobsen muscled her 25th kill of the afternoon through the Idaho State block, and with that the Northern Arizona volleyball team’s reverse sweep was complete. Rallying back from a 2-0 deficit for the first time in almost two years, the Lumberjacks played spoiler on the Bengals’ Senior Day by pulling off the 22-25, 23-25, 25-15, 25-16, 15-11 victory in Reed Gym.

The Lumberjacks’ first win from a 2-0 deficit since Nov. 28, 2019 against Idaho clinched the No. 5 seed in next week’s Big Sky Championship. NAU will face No. 4 Montana State in the first round on Thursday, Nov. 18 at a match time yet to be announced.

“The biggest lesson is when things aren’t going the way we want them to, we can change in the middle of the match,” said head coach Ken Murphy. “Our leaders did a great job today after the second set, getting the team regrouped and making sure we played every point the way we wanted to.”

NAU (12-13, 10-6 Big Sky) was led by Jacobsen, who came up one kill shy of matching her career-high. In addition to her 25 kills, including nine in the third set alone, Jacobsen tied a season-high with 18 digs in her eighth double-double of the season and also notched two blocks and an ace.

To rally back from down two sets, it takes a team effort and that is exactly what the Lumberjacks got on Saturday. Senior Ryann Davis and redshirt junior Morgan Gappmayer both totaled nine kills, while sophomore Jordan Elder and sophomore Lyla Hollis had eight and seven respectively. NAU rotated in seven hitters and all seven hit .263 or better with senior Aubrea Bandfield setting NAU to a .279 hitting percentage.

Speaking of Bandfield, she set career-highs across the board with 56 assists, 16 digs and a team-leading four blocks. Bandfield, like Jacobsen, recorded a double-double with it being her sixth this season.

Jacobsen and Bandfield were two of a season-high four Lumberjacks to notch double-digit digs along with sophomore Millie O’Ketter (15) and Davis (12).

The first two sets went to the Bengals in close fashion as the teams combined for 22 ties and 10 lead changes, and both ended with strong Idaho State finishes. In the first game, NAU erased a four-point deficit and held a 22-21 lead late following a Davis kill before Idaho State closed on a 4-0 run.

Likewise in the second set, the Bengals led by four early, only for the ‘Jacks to climb in front. A 3-0 run spurred by two kills from Davis put the Lumberjacks ahead, 23-22, but once again the Bengals had the Lumberjacks’ number at the end. Idaho State returned the favor with a 3-0 run to put NAU’s back against the wall.

Between a combination of Jacobsen on the attack and NAU’s defense clamping down on Idaho State, the Lumberjacks began to mount their comeback in a dominant third set. Jacobsen tallied nine of her 25 kills in the game, and the Bengals hit .000 with 10 attack errors.

What started out as a close set, NAU broke through with a 9-1 run, with five kills from Jacobsen, to open up a 15-7 lead. The ‘Jacks never let up and they clinched the set on an ace by Bandfield, one of NAU’s season-high tying 10 on the day.

Holding the Bengals to .000 hitting was a sign of things to come and completely flipped the match. Through the first two sets, Idaho State was hitting .262, and in the last three, NAU held the Bengals to a .078 clip.

“In the first two sets, Idaho State hit any shot they wanted to and was feeling pretty free out there,” Murphy said. “In the third set, we really started blocking effectively and we slowed them down. It made them rethink what they wanted to do and after that, there were a few more unforced errors and that was the big switch between the second and third set.”

NAU appeared to seize the momentum with a 6-0 run that gave the ‘Jacks a 13-9 fourth set advantage, but the Bengals closed the gap to 15-13. It remained a two-point set until a clinching 7-0 run by the Lumberjacks. Gappmayer contributed two kills during the run and Elder found the back corner on match point with a kill.

Playing in its third five-set match of the season, NAU never trailed scoring the first four points. O’Ketter recorded the last two of her career-high four aces to force an Idaho State timeout at 10-3 and the Lumberjacks reached match point at 14-7. The Bengals staved off four match points before Jacobsen put the stamp on the victory, securing NAU’s 10th conference win.

The Big Sky Championship, hosted by Weber State in Ogden, Utah, will begin with four first round matches next Thursday with the title match set for Saturday, Nov. 20.

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