Patton’s 23 pts. helps NAU Coach Kelly to win No. 100

Amy Patton scored 23 points to make sure NAU head basketball coach, Laurie Kelly, reached the 100-win milestone at the college over the weekend.

The 61-57 win over Binghamton University in Northern Arizona’s Thanksgiving tournament was the squad’s third straight win and got the Lumberjacks into the tourney finals against Drake University.  But the ‘Jacks had to settle for runner-up after a 67-52 loss to the Bulldogs.

But the Binghamton game had to involve mixed emotions since Kelly was the head coach at the New York college before being hired at NAU and had a very successful 5-year career stop there, taking the program to its first conference championship.

Patton is a prolific scorer from McClintock High School in Tempe, where she was the Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior and the Arizona Republic Player of the Year as a senior.

She has been a gift to Kelly and the Lumberjack program, a player that normally gets snapped up by a larger program.  She led the Big Sky Conference in multiple categories last year as a freshman, including rebounding, double-doubles, and most 30-point games.  That earned her the Big Sky Freshman of the Year award.

In addition, Patton broke the 25-year-old school record for single-season scoring with 539 points and posted the top single-game scoring effort with 35 points.

Even with Patton on board, last year’s team lost a couple of key starters and finished 5-24.  This year, the Jacks are off to a 3-3 start as they attempt to get the program back to where Kelly had it four years ago when they won the conference title for the first time in school history.

In addition to compiling the 100 wins while at NAU, Kelly has enjoyed other successes in Flagstaff.  She was the first women’s basketball coach to take a Lumberjack team to the NCAA Tournament and the first coach to win more than 20 games in two seasons.

The Thanksgiving tournament gave this year’s squad an opportunity to work against some teams that will provide a challenge and help them develop some areas that need work.

The results were mixed.

The Jacks held their own on the boards, even out-rebounding Drake on the offensive end, 12-8, in that loss.  But, outside of Patton, the shooting hasn’t been there.  They shot 39 percent from the field in the win over Binghamton and just 33 percent against Drake.

But they also found out they could handle the pressure moments.  Against Binghamton, they were up as many as 15 points before the Bearcats tied the game at 55.  Tyler Stephens-Jenkins hit a three with just 33 seconds left to take the lead back, and then Patton and Vicki Toney sunk crucial free throws to seal the win.

Toney is a senior transfer from Lamar University, whose contributions last year earned her the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year.

Katie Pratt and Jenna Galloway added some double-digit offense to the effort against Binghamton, with Pratt scoring 13 and Galloway 11.  And against Drake, Caty Huntington contributed 11.

The 2010 schedule includes four schools from major conferences, including both Arizona and Arizona State from the Pac-10 and Northwestern and Minnesota from the Big Ten.  The Jacks have already taken their lumps with the Arizona schools, dropping both of those in lop-sided losses, and will meet the Big Ten schools the middle of next month.

Kelly is in her eighth season at the helm of the NAU program, and experiencing a fall-off of a program that she had taken to an elite level.  Now she’s back in a rebuilding mode.

But the NAU administration obviously believes she can make that happen.  In the off-season, they renewed Kelly’s contract for another three years.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)