by Dominic Ferrucci
Weber State (12-5) returns to the Dee Events Center Thursday night to play host to the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (5-11). NAU is fresh off of a COVID-19 pause that resulted in the cancellation of four games. Northern Arizona comes into Thursday night sitting at ninth in the Big Sky standings. They currently have a 4-6 conference record. Oddly enough, three of NAU’s four conference wins have come on the road. That includes an impressive 62-58 win at Montana in mid-January.
Since that win, however, Northern Arizona has played just three games due to coronavirus issues within their program. They have a 1-2 record to show for it. The story for the Lumberjack’s season can be found in their struggles on the defensive end. They are surrendering an average of nearly 73 points a game. This number is partially inflated due to outstanding non-conference opponents including Gonzaga, Arizona and Colorado St. However, NAU still ranks dead last in Big Sky Conference play in opponent efficient field goal percentage (percentage that takes into account added value of three-point field goals) and opponent two-point field goal percentage. Weber State will look to pile onto the 57.7 percent two-point field goal percentage, well above the Division I average of 49.8 percent.
The Wildcats enter Thursday night’s opener coming off a win. They scored 91 points on the road, having shot over 66 percent from the field in the second half. Weber ranks first in Big Sky play, shooting 57 percent inside the arc and twelfth nationally in efficient field goal percentage at 56.4 percent. These are the two categories in which NAU struggles the most. Northern Arizona could be a dangerous matchup, however, if the Wildcats revert to their turnover ways that showed in the first half on the road at Montana Saturday.
The Lumberjacks are second in the conference in causing turnovers. They are keen to keep the ball to themselves. In their last win at home against Northern Colorado, the Lumberjacks won the turnover battle only surrendering 7, while doubling up the Bears and forcing 14 on the defensive end. Such was the story in their win at Montana. In that game, the Lumberjacks gained an extra 16 possessions of off turnovers. The Wildcats will need to take care of the basketball if they want to walk away with their second straight win.
Junior guard Cameron Shelton will be at the center of the scouting report heading into Thursday night. He ranks first in all offensive categories for NAU. Shelton averages 21.6 points per game to go along with over six rebounds and 4 assists. He is the known by the team as the go-to man for the Lumberjacks. Shelton is used in 35.6 percent of NAU’s possessions. He ranks third nationally in that statistic. In conference play, Shelton ranks first in minutes played and first in percentage of shots taken. The success for Shelton does not come as a surprise as he was chosen as a preseason All Big Sky first-team performer. Last year, he was one of only four players in the Big Sky to rank in the top 10 in both scoring and rebounding. Shelton has scored over 13 points every game this season. He has scored more than 20 points in each of the last three games for Northern Arizona.
Outside of Shelton, the Lumberjacks do not have another double digit scorer. Junior forward Nik Mains will also contribute. He has scored in double figures in five of the last seven games. Junior guard Luke Avdalovic adds a three-point threat with two or more threes in seven games this season. This includes a four of six performance from downtown in a win against Idaho earlier this season. The starting lineup will most likely be filled by forwards Keith Haymond and Carson Towt. They add size to the Lumberjacks front line at 6’7” and 6’9” respectively, but do not add much of a scoring threat. It should be a fun matchup between these two who met twice last year, with each team grabbing a win on their home floor. Be sure to tune in Thursday night as the Wildcats will look to continue their momentum and pick up another win at the Dee Events center. Home is a place where they have yet to lose this season.
Keys to the Game:
1. Make Someone Outside of Shelton Beat You
- Guard Cameron Shelton has scored at least 30 percent of NAU’s points in every game this season. If they slow him down, the Wildcats will be in good shape.
2. Push the Tempo
- Weber State is first in the conference in tempo. They should continue this trend against a team that has not played in over 2 weeks.
3. Play with Confidence
- The Wildcats responded in a big way Saturday with a big road win where they shot over 60%, shooting the ball with this same confidence will be key to another W.
Featured image courtesy Robert Casey, Weber State Athletics