The Lumberjacks hosted the Northern Colorado Bears in their final game of the regular season on Saturday. The senior day game was played at the Walkup Skydome, where the careers of seniors Tate Tsingine and Kaleigh Paplow were celebrated. NAU won by a double-digit margin, 79-68.
In the first half, the Bears got off to a fast start led by senior point guard Savannah Smith, who leads the Big Sky Conference in scoring. She had 21 points at the intermission, powered by five 3-pointers. NAU head coach Loree Payne called a timeout following one of Smith’s deep 3-point shots and made a defensive adjustment. Payne switched the Lumberjack defense to focus solely on limiting Smith’s offensive production by putting two defenders on Smith and denying the ball when her teammates tried to pass to her. This change in defense resulted in a Lumberjack 9-0 run, and NAU entered the half with a 42-31 lead.
NAU kept on building their lead throughout the second half. Sophomore Khiarica Rasheed scored 12 points in the final quarter, boosting her total to 17 along with grabbing 7 rebounds. Led by Rasheed and Paplow on the glass NAU, won the rebounding battle 48-38, and limited Northern Colorado’s perimeter shots. Although Colorado's Smith dropped 40 points, the Lumberjacks played stout team defense and limited each Northern Colorado possession to one shot.
“You always say you want to be playing your best basketball in March, and we are. Hands down, we’re playing our best basketball that we’ve played all year," said head coach Loree Payne. "With such a young squad it’s just so great to see them starting to emerge and really play together on both ends of the floor.”
Paplow brought a presence on the court during her senior night, ending with 27 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists. She also set a new milestone, moving past Julie Hanks and taking fifth place on the all-time scoring list for NAU women’s basketball. Paplow is the only player in program history to place in the top 10 in points, rebounds, assists and steals.
“I love what this team is doing, I love how we’re feeling and how we’re playing right now. We feel good going into the tournament,” Paplow said.
The Lumberjacks conclude their season on three consecutive wins, boosting the team’s morale heading into the Big Sky tournament on Monday.