NAU basketball eyes upset of UA in Fiesta Bowl Classic

The Lumberjacks are heading to Tucson tomorrow and appear to have their best chance in recent memory to break a 26-game losing streak to the Wildcats.

University of Arizona will host Northern Arizona in the annual Fiesta Bowl Basketball Classic, as the Big Sky meets the Pac-10.  And, even though the Cats have beat the only other Big Sky opponents they’ve played this year – Idaho State and Northern Colorado – by an average of 35 points, the Lumberjacks present a more serious threat.

NAU (7-3) is coming off a narrow loss to another Pac-10 team and brimming with confidence.  The Jacks lost to USC, 60-52, by holding the Trojans to 39 percent shooting from the field and keeping them 10 points below their average total.

They overcame a 12-point deficit early in the second half to pull within three with under 10 minutes to play, thanks in part to five 3-pointers from sophomore Gabe Rogers.

Prior to that game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, NAU was riding a seven-game winning streak, the school’s longest since the 2005-06 season when they put together 10 in  a row.  Their two losses were at the start of the season and were by an average deficit of nine points.

Sure, USC is 6-4 and wasn’t burning up the basketball world, but they were coming off a 73-56 upset of No. 19 Texas.  That took some doing.

UA, on the other hand, is 8-2 but unranked -just the fourth time in 24 years the Cats  have started the season without a national ranking .  And they just took a 87-65 beat-down at the hands of the BYU Cougars, so they have some issues to resolve before taking on the Lumberjacks, a D-I FCS team.

The Cats struggled to get their offense on track against BYU.  They shot just 28 percent from the field in the first half, which, combined with seven turnovers, led to a 22-10 deficit that proved too much to overcome.

The lone bright spot was the 20-point performance by Lamont “MoMo” Jones, who now joins Derrick Williams and Solomon Hill as the three Wildcat players who have hit the 20-point mark this season.

Actually, the shots haven’t been falling the last couple of games, as the Cats are just 39.8 percent from the field and 29.8 from behind the arc over that period.

They also got beat by BYU on the boards, 38-34, the first time that’s happened this season.  And that contributed to the Cougars’ 87 points, which are the most any team has scored on Arizona this season.

So, the Wildcats are trying to right the ship before the Jacks roll into McKale Center tomorrow night, while their visitors from the high country are sailing in with a strong wind at their back.

Last year’s meeting with NAU ended in a 87-70 win for Arizona, with the Cats coasting to the win after building up a 23-point lead early in the game.  Hill led the UA scorers with 17 points in his college freshman debut.

This year, the Cats are averaging 83.3 points and shooting 52 percent when playing on the Lute Olson Court – while holding opponents this season to 70 points or less per game.

And they have lost just two games in the 46 they’ve played in the Fiesta Bowl Classic, going back to when the event was a four-team format instead of a single-game match-up.

But it looks like they’re going to have to work hard to keep it at just two.

If you don’t believe that, just ask the Trojans.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)