NAU kept its win streak alive and rolling with a win, as it defeated the Southern Utah University (SUU) Thunderbirds 84-76 Thursday evening. The Lumberjacks knew they needed to tighten up on defense to keep their win streak alive, but they had their hands full taking on the Big Sky scoring leader, SUU senior guard Rebecca Cardenas.
Cardenas was a known threat for the Lumberjacks coming into Thursday’s game. Leading the Big Sky in scoring with 17.8 points per game and steals with 2.6 per game, Cardenas was looking like the potential monkey wrench in NAU’s quest to maintain their winning streak. The Lumberjacks drew most of their attention to Cardenas early, holding the guard to two shots in the first quarter.
The Lumberjacks finished the first quarter with a 12 point lead against the Thunderbirds, out-boarding SUU 12-6 heading into the second. Cardenas got some action going in the paint, shooting 4-5 to bring the lead to single digits as NAU led the Thunderbirds 43-38 at the half.
“I think we got a little bit ahead of ourselves in the first 5 minutes [of the first quarter],” NAU head coach Loree Payne said. “I challenged our starters that we needed to start stronger and I think they were so ready to go that they got a little bit ahead of themselves.”
The Thunderbirds could not create a presence under the basket as they continued to get out-boarded by NAU. The Lumberjacks outrebounded SUU 36-28, holding the Thunderbirds just out of reach to mount a comeback.
Cardenas managed to rattle junior guard Caitlin Malvar with a little less than 9 minutes left in the fourth quarter, sending the Lumberjacks into a short scramble. NAU caught their footing and battled back, keeping composure to seal their fourth straight win against the Thunderbirds 84-76.
With the win, the Lumberjacks are 7-8 overall and 4-2 in conference play. NAU will have a break from travel for the next game as it takes on the University of Northern Colorado Bears Saturday at the Walkup Skydome.
“We just have to be a little more composed to start the game and definitely to finish the game as well,” Payne said.