No. 8 NAU took on No. 9 Sacramento State at the CenturyLink Arena in Boise, Idaho for the Big Sky Championship. After a competitive first half, the Lumberjacks came out ahead 74-69.
NAU won the first round, but may have lost their only starting senior for the remainder of the tournament. With under three minutes left in the game, senior forward Kaleigh Paplow limped off the court after falling.
In the first quarter, NAU started to get transition buckets off turnovers and rebounds. They went on a 7-0 run late in the first to grab a 5-point lead that they kept for the remainder of the quarter.
The second quarter was a different story. Sacramento took advantage with good looks inside and frequent stops at the free-throw line. Sacramento State junior guard Hannah Friend led the way for the Hornets in the second. Friend had 11 points in the second, 7 of which came from the line. NAU was able to keep the score tight. They made 6-7 from the free-throw line and were able to hit a couple key 3-pointers. NAU gave their lead up to SCUS at the end of the half as they got outscored by 9, making it 35-31 at the half.
In the third, NAU struggled on defense and took poor care of the ball, which allowed the Hornets to make easy buckets from inside. NAU was able to do just enough in the quarter to prevent the game from slipping away. However, SCUS added on 3 points to their lead at the end of the quarter, making it 50-43 heading into the fourth.
In the fourth, NAU made a huge turnaround, shattering the SCUS lead. For the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter, NAU outscored SCUS 18-4 and gained a 61-54 lead. NAU’s defense suffocated SA, forcing them to take bad shots and only make 1 of 10 during the eight-minute run. Toward the end of the game, SCUS had to resort to fouling NAU and chucking up desperation threes. SCUS made a fierce effort to come back but it was too little too late. NAU prevailed and will move on in the bracket.
Turning Point: NAU’s eight-minute, 18-4 point run in the fourth led them to victory.
Prime Performer: Sophomore forward Khiarica Rasheed was a huge presence in NAU’s win, especially in the fourth quarter. Rasheed played with urgency and was looking for her shot a lot, especially down low in the post. She was up against some tough defense, but made accurate shots. Rasheed was the key component in the 18-4 run in the fourth, contributing 9 of the 18 points down the stretch. She had a total of 18 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal in the game.
What's Next?: NAU advances in the Big Sky tournament to take on the No. 1 seed Idaho in CenturyLink Arena.
The Lumberjacks will need lots of rest and recovery, especially for senior forward Kaleigh Paplow. It is unknown whether or not she will compete for the rest of the tournament.
NAU will prepare for the high-volume shooting offense of Idaho and look to shut down the “Splash Sisters.”