The CSUN Matador men’s basketball team begins its Big West Tournament run tonight against a familiar foe.
The Matadors, seeded sixth in the conference, will face off against the seventh-seeded Pacific Tigers tonight at the Anaheim Convention Center at 8 p.m. Pacific, the regular season champion the last two seasons as well as tournament champion two of the last three years, has taken a dramatic fall this year, sliding to seventh in the conference.
The Matadors and Tigers split its two meetings this season. In the first game at Pacific’s Alex G. Spanos Center back on December 30, 2006, the Matadors held a 36-30 halftime lead, but Pacific eventually stormed back, took the lead and held off several Matador threats for a 68-64 win. Senior forward Terrell Jones led the Matadors with 17 points and junior forward Jonathan Heard had 16. Pacific was led by Anthony Brown’s 21 points and Joe Ford’s 10 points.
The second meeting at the Matadome back on Feb. 24 was a different story. The Tigers led early in the contest, but CSUN came right back, using a 13-0 run to take a 27-22 lead and ended up leading 33-26 at the half. Northridge held on to the lead all through the second half and though Pacific made several runs at the Matadors, they were never able to get them to fold under the pressure, making several key plays down the stretch and holding on for a 76-73 win.
Junior forward Calvin Chitwood led the Matadors with 19 points, Heard had 16 and senior center Thomas Shewmake scored 13 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Solomon HorseChief had 15 points, Michael White had 14 points, C.J. Morgan had 13 points and Brown had 11.
After ending its nine-game losing streak to Pacific back on Feb. 24, Northridge will look to dish out a little more payback to the Tigers. The Matadors had lost two heart-breaking contests to Pacific in 2004 and 2005. In 2004, CSUN made it all the way to the Big West championship game until two Miah Davis free-throws and a last-second three-pointer by Davin White bounced off the rim, allowing Pacific to escape with a 75-73 win.
A year later, the two teams hooked up again, this time in the semifinals. Again, Pacific, then ranked 16th in the nation that year, led big early in the game, but the Matadors once again staged a late comeback, taking a 61-60 lead with about a minute left on a steal and a basket by Joseph Frazier. The Tigers though re-took the lead on three free throws in the final moments and a last second three by Frazier missed off the rim, giving Pacific a 63-61 win.
Being the sixth seed in the tournament could bode well for the Matadors. Back in 2004, the Matadors were also seeded sixth in the tournament, but went on a Cinderella run that ended just one win short of the NCAA Tournament. The Matadors defeated Fullerton 80-70 in the first round, then upset that years’ pre-season conference favorite UC Santa Barbara 61-58, then pulled off the stunner of all stunners, knocking out nationally ranked Utah State on a three-pointer by Frazier with 29 seconds left before coming up a mere seconds short against Pacific.
Should Northridge defeat the Pacific on Wednesday night, the Matadors will face third seeded Cal State Fullerton on Thursday night at 6 p.m. The Matadors could also face fourth-seeded UC Santa Barbara around 8 p.m. should eight-seeded UC Riverside upset fifth-seeded UC Irvine.