BOISE, Idaho — The Montana State basketball programs weren't the only teams with Treasure State connections buzzing at the Big Sky Conference Tournament in Boise, Idaho.
Havre native Loree Payne is in her fifth season as the head coach of the Northern Arizona women's basketball team, and this season marked her best yet down in Flagstaff. Payne and the Lumberjacks entered the tournament with a No. 4 seed and a bye, and with wins over Montana and Northern Colorado, the Lumberjacks advanced to their first Big Sky Tournament championship game since 2007. There, they fell to tournament winner Montana State, 75-64.
NAU finished 17-14 on the season and went 12-8 during the Big Sky slate of their season. Those 17 wins and that .548 winning percentage in 2021-22 was the best season for NAU's women since that 2006-07 squad.
It's also a stark turnaround for the program, a goal Payne was tasked with when she took the program over. In her first season at the helm, Payne and NAU went 7-23 in 2017-18. They improved to 13-18 in her second season, and went 16-15 in her third year and NAU advanced to the semifinal round of the conference tournament.
NAU went 15-14 during the COVID-19-affected season of 2020-21, so this season marked the third straight winning season for the Lumberjacks under Payne.
Payne is one of the most successful prep athletes to come from Montana after her standout career at Havre High School. From there, she went on to have a decorated college career at the University of Washington before jumping into coaching with assistant gigs at Northwest Nazarene, Portland and Washington before earning her first head coaching job at NCAA Division III University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington where she spent seven seasons before being hired at NAU.
MTN Sports caught up with Payne before the Big Sky Tournament tipped off in Boise with our latest 1-on-1 to see how NAU has made this turnaround with Payne guiding the ship. Check out the video above for the full conversation.