The Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team led the Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona by as many as 12 points in the second half, but a few sloppy offensive possessions down the stretch resulted in a tough 62-58 loss for the Eagles on Saturday (Feb. 9) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
In the final 4:14, the Eagles went 0-of-6 from the field and committed three turnovers, while NAU scored 11 unanswered points and corralled two huge offensive boards to hold on for a slim four-point victory on the road.
“Well, we turned the ball over, and they [NAU] scored it. Simple as that,” said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. “We did an awful job the last four minutes taking care of the basketball. We had shots, but just couldn’t knock them down. But credit to NAU because they fought and hung with us down the stretch.”
Eastern falls to 13-10 on the year and 9-5 in Big Sky play. The Eagles remain in third place in the standings, but drop to a full two games behind conference-leading Montana (11-3), and one and a half behind second-place Northern Colorado (10-3).
The Lumberjacks got a boost to their postseason hopes, as they improve to 6-16 on the year and 5-8 in league play - just a half-game out of seventh.
The first half on Saturday was a back-and-forth affair, but a 7-2 Eagle run at the end of the period allowed the home team to enjoy a five-point edge at intermission.
Within the first five minutes of the second half, the Eagles had built that lead to 12, but NAU then scored eight unanswered points, as the momentum slowly started to shift.
“We were just slow,” said Schuller. “I was yelling at the team to go faster, run the offense faster, but we just looked lethargic. You can’t play that way against an athletic team that is fighting for their lives.”
Eastern held an eight-point lead with 4:59 remaining in the game, but Big Sky leading scorer Amy Patton drained a fadeaway jumper that sparked a 9-1 run for the Jacks. With just 44 ticks left on the clock, NAU had managed to tie it up a 56.
On its next possession, NAU’s senior guard/forward Tyler Stephens-Jenkins converted a layup in traffic and was sent to the line for an and-1. Stephens-Jenkins missed her free throw, but the Lumberjacks grabbed the offensive board, forcing EWU to foul.
NAU converted 5-of-6 free throws over the next 30 seconds, while EWU missed back-to-back field goal attempts.
With six seconds remaining, sophomore guard Lexie Nelson was able to earn a trip to the line and hit two free throws to make it a one possession game, but another offensive rebound for NAU following a missed free throw allowed the Jacks to just hold possession as time expired.
“I thought they manhandled us at times, and we did not respond,” said Schuller. “I was not pleased with our ability to handle, pass and take care of the ball. We did not shoot it well or execute anything offensively in either with NAU this season. It is disappointing. We need to get more consistent effort from our players. We can’t have somebody get 16 one night and four the next. I feel like we are really inconsistent right now, even when we are winning games. We are inconsistent in terms of our play, and that has got to get better.”
Junior guard Aubrey Ashenfelter led the Eagles in almost every statistical category with 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and a career-high-tying five steals.
“Overall, I thought Aubrey did a great job,” said Schuller. “She had a hard assignment guarding Amy Patton. She [Patton] is a phenomenal scorer, and made some really tough shots over Aubrey. Somebody else has to be able to step up and help her, because Aubrey was trying to work on the offensive end and on the defensive end, she has the toughest assignment in the league.”
Redshirt-freshman Hayley Hodgins also finished with 13 points, while point guard Kylie Huerta chipped in 12.
With exception of the final five minutes, EWU shot the ball fairly well, finishing the game at 42.6 percent. But NAU was slightly better at 43.1. The Eagles, who came in as the best 3-point shooting team in the league and one of the top 25 in the nation, did make just 5-of-18 attempts from beyond the arc. The Eagles also gave up 11 points on second-chance, while committing 18 turnovers throughout the contest.
Eastern has just two games over the next two weeks, with a trip to Southern Utah on Saturday, Feb. 16, followed by a home game against Portland State on Thursday, Feb. 21.