Both NAU hoops teams facing last-place Big Sky finishes

The basketball gods haven’t been smiling down on Flagstaff this season.  At least, not down on the Northern Arizona University campus.

Instead, they’re probably laughing their butts off.

No denying, it’s been a tough year for the Lumberjacks – on both sides of the aisle.  The men’s and women’s teams have a combined 3-22 conference record.

The men (1-12) are sitting in the Big Sky cellar and the women (2-10) are in eighth place, saved from last place by winless Weber State.

Which makes tonight’s game with Weber State all the more important.  If the Wildcats should beat NAU, that gap between eighth place and last place narrows and the Lumberjacks step up to the edge of the abyss.

In mid-January, the Jacks beat Weber State by 13 points because they got a full team effort as 11 players scored and 10 got at least one rebound, enabling them to finish with a 42-37 rebounding advantage.  But the Jacks held just a two-point lead at halftime and were never able to pull away to more than a 10-point lead the rest of the way.

That was a home game, before their own fans – although there are just a few hundred showing up in the stands nowadays.  This time, NAU will have to find a way to win in a hostile environment on the road.

That earlier win against Weber State broke a nine-game losing streak, but since then they have lost four out of five to run a disappointing season mark to 7-17.

The women, who were picked in the pre-season for a sixth-place conference finish, would have to win all five of the remaining games to collect more wins than last season.  And even if they were to pull off that minor miracle, they would still be left with a third consecutive losing season.

On the other side of the program, the men’s troubles can be directly attributed to the sudden departure of head coach Mike Adras, who resigned just nine games into the season (see Phxfan 1/31/12 article).  So we’ve got to cut them some slack.

Dave Brown took over the program, coming out of coaching retirement to try to hold the team together for the remainder of the season.  Brown last coached the women’s team at NAU back in the 80’s and was working in the broadcast booth as a color commentator for the men’s games.

But the men’s team (5-20) was off to a lousy start before Brown assumed the reins, opening the season with just two wins in nine games.  And the Jacks were coming off 9-7 and 8-7 seasons in the previous two years, finishing no higher than fourth place in the Big Sky either year.

The men are probably too far in the hole to climb out of the conference cellar; Cororado State sits just above them with a 4-8 record.

That means, should the women stumble against Weber State today and not pick themselves up before taking on the remaining games left in the regular season, they could find themselves in a deep hole next to the men’s team.

Oh yeah, they play three of the top five teams in the conference to close the schedule.  That doesn’t bode well for a team that has trouble with the teams on the bottom half.

Like we said… it’s been a tough year for NAU basketball.  And, unfortunately, it’s not over yet.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)