NAU has top Big Sky freshman, but women’s hoops struggle

Laurie Kelly knew what she was getting when she recruited Amy Patton out of McClintock High School in Tempe.  She led McClintock to the state finals last year and was named the Arizona Republic Player of the Year.

But the head women’s basketball coach at Northern Arizona University could not have anticipated the extent to which the 5’10” guard would impact the program in just her first year on the Flagstaff campus.

Patton was named the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year, and teammate Vickie Toney was recognized as the Newcomer of the Year.

Toney is a junior who transferred in from Lamar University, where she had an under-the-radar two years, specializing in assists.  This year, she finished the season nationally-ranked in assists-per-game.  As a 5’4″ guard, her size isn’t appealing for major-college programs.  But she has a good pedigree, coming from John Hope High School in Chicago, which has been ranked as high as No. 20 in the USA Today national poll.

But Patton brings the whole package, as not only the second-leading scorer (18.6 ppg) in the Big Sky this year, but also the conference’s top rebounder with 8.6 per game.  She finished first in the conference with 13 double-doubles, more than twice as many as any other player in the Big Sky.  And she recorded four 30-point games and 14 games with 10 or more rebounds.

She has also made a new entry in the school record books, scoring 539 points in the regular season to replace the record of 538 set by Mindy Sherred during the 1986-87 season.

On the national stage, Patton is ranked No. 24 in all of NCAA D-1 women’s scoring and was the fourth-best freshman scorer in the country.

This has been a great year for Patton.  She has proven what she can do at the next level.  And Coach Kelly can only hope that her career continues to play out in Flagstaff.

But the cat is out of the bag.  Patton has become very visible on the national stage.  There are some ‘big name’ programs that would love to have that kind of talent.

NAU went 5-24 this year, 3-13 in conference.  And the basketball season comes with knee-deep snow and freezing temperatures.  So now Kelly has to find a way to keep Patton around.

Winning would be a good start.