This game report appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun.
Headline: Jacks can’t come back
TUCSON — There are, of course, no do-overs in basketball. But if the NAU women’s basketball team could re-play the first 10 minutes of one game, it would be this one:
Saturday’s contest against Baylor in the NCAA Tournament’s first round.
The Lumberjacks stumbled out of the gates, falling behind 19-4 from the start at McKale Center.
It was a daunting obstacle to rebound from that deficit. The Lumberjacks gave it their best shot, though, but fell short, 74-56.
“We started behind from the beginning,” said Lumberjacks point guard Sade Cunningham, who scored a team-high 13 points. “Everyone plays with so much heart. When we were losing, I think a lot of people thought we would give up. We played hard and with heart. We showed what NAU basketball is all about.”
Naturally, Baylor’s No. 10 national ranking, its 2005 championship and the excitement over being in the tourney for the first time played a part in the NAU players’ mind-set after tipoff.
Which is why it was a challenge for Lumberjacks coach Laurie Kelly and her team to treat this like any other game.
“How do you prepare for something you have never done?” Kelly said. “I think the first 10 minutes they played afraid. We are an inside-outside team, and we just weren’t throwing the ball inside.”
Instead, the 14th-seeded Jacks settled for jumpers and didn’t attack the basket with regularity. This enabled the third-seeded Bears to put up points in a hurry, grabbing the aforementioned 15-point lead and stretching that lead to 31-10 with 8:20 left in the half.
Senior guard Nicky Eason scored NAU’s first four points of the game, and the second bucket ended a scoring drought of 7:12.
After Eason scored, Baylor star Sophia Young drilled five consecutive field goals, and at that point she had scored 16 points, or six more than NAU. Baylor led by 21 then.
“You can’t let Sophia Young score 40 points,” Kelly told her players earlier this week.
She didn’t, but she put up points in a hurry as the Bears seized the early momentum.
“I knew from the scouting report that they were going to double team me, but once my team started scoring it freed me up,” Young said.
Young, a national player of the year candidate, had 16 points by halftime, reaching double digits for the 77th straight game.
NAU seized a little momentum, Kelly said, going into the half.
With 4.3 seconds left, sophomore forward Laura Dinkins scored on a tip-in and was fouled. She missed the foul shot. That made it 43-22, Baylor, NAU’s largest halftime deficit of the season.
The Jacks were 6-for-30 from the field in the first half.
“I think at the half we knew we had nothing to lose,” Dinkins said. “We came out to leave our heart and effort on the floor. We knew this was it. We wanted to leave it all on the floor.”
Baylor expected nothing less.
“In the locker room, we talked as a team about them giving us their best shot because they were a team with nothing to lose,” said Bears guard Chameka Scott, who finished with 10 points.
Scott was right.
The Jacks played with a sense of urgency in the second half, asserting themselves in the paint and moving the ball around more effectively. They used a 9-0 spurt to cut it to 49-35 on a pair of Cunningham free throws with 13:56 left.
A trio of successive layups, two by Sandra Viksryte and the other by Eason, made the score 61-45. Eason hit the subsequent foul shot to complete a three-point play and trim the lead to 15 with 5:19 remaining. Seconds later, a 7-0 NAU run, including a putback by Viksryte and two Dinkins free throws brought the Jacks within 63-51.
That was as close as they got.
Viksryte scored all 11 of her points in the second half.
Alyssa Wahl and Eason finished with 10 points apiece. Wahl added 10 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season. She also made both of NAU’s 3-pointers. As a team, the Jacks shot 2 of 11 from 3-point range.
The Jacks didn’t get their usual offensive production from Megan Porter and Kim Winkfield. They combined to shoot 0-for-11 from the field. Winkfield scored two points, Porter was scoreless.
NAU ended its season at 22-11. Baylor (25-6) plays 11th-seeded New Mexico, 83-59 winners over No. 6 Florida in Saturday’s last game at McKale, in Monday’s second round.
After the game, Bears coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson played her own worst critic, saying she made substitutions too quickly.
“You are trying in the moment to put the team away but you put subs in to get experience,” she said. “I took the momentum away and we never got back into the flow. I felt like we were in control. As a coach, a 12-point differential wasn’t indicative of the game.”
It was the final collegiate game for four NAU seniors – Eason, Viksryte, Kim Biswanger and Beth Hopper.
“I’m going to miss all four of them in different ways,” Kelly said. “They have all been influential on the floor, and for them to take off their jersey is difficult. I went into the locker room and just thanked the girls for getting them to where they are. They will never be the same without these girls.”
The same could be said for the Lumberjack program. This is no longer a team without an appearance in the Big Dance. Saturday’s date will forever be etched into the NCAA history books as a game the Jacks appeared in.
“It’s definitely a big step for us getting here to a place where we wanted to be,” Dinkins said. “We want to come back next year.”
Kelly said, “We just had a taste of dessert, which is the NCAA Tournament, and we want it again. We will go back and work hard over the summer so that we can be here next year.”