A tournament loss for the final goodbye

Ivan Yeo

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Turns out the third time wasn’t the charm for the CSUN Matador women’s basketball team against the Cal State Fullerton Titans.

Fullerton jumped Northridge in the first half and held off several Matador rallies in the second half as the Titans eliminated the Matadors in the quarterfinals of the Big West Tournament 75-65 at the Anaheim Convention Center Thursday afternoon. The win was the Titans’ third straight over the Matadors this season.

“This was a rough closing to a pretty good year,” Head Coach Staci Schulz said. “I want to thank the seniors for bringing Cal State Northridge women’s basketball to a higher expectation level?for our fans, staff and for the future of the women’s program.”

Seniors Ofa Tulikihihifo, LaJoyce King and Jamie McCaa led CSUN in what turned out to be their final game as Matadors. Tulikihihifo scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, King had 12 points and 16 rebounds and McCaa also scored 12 points. McCaa’s three assists in the game also established her as Northridge’s all-time assist leader. MaCaa’s 340 career assists is one ahead of Vicki Mallett.

Fullerton had four players in double figures. India McDaniel scored a team-high 19 points off the bench, Toni Thomas had 17 points, Dayana Frias and Charlee Underwood scored 11 points apiece. Underwood also grabbed 12 rebounds.

The game’s opening stages started out close. A King score at 12:12 gave CSUN a 10-9 lead, but Fullerton took control of the game thereafter, going on a 20-2 run over the next four and a half minutes to take a 29-12 lead at 7:31. Fullerton eventually took a 43-30 lead into the halftime break.

The Matadors caught fire to start the second half. King started the run with a pair of free throws, senior Jazelle Burries followed with a jumper, two more King free throws and a McCaa basket capped off an 8-0 run that cut the deficit to five at 53-48 with 16:38 to play.

“We thought that (run) would (carry) over,” McCaa said of CSUN’s surge. “We thought we’d get it tied, then take the lead.”

A pair of Thomas free throws got Fullerton on the board in the second half McCaa scored another basket at 13:46, jumpers by Underwood restored the Titan lead to double digits at 51-41, but it did not last long, as center Katie Holloway scored inside the post at 9:42 and converted a three-point play 32 second later to cut the lead to five. Sophomore guard Ashley Blake slashed in for a running lay up to cut the deficit down to three at 7:55, but Underwood scored 15 seconds later and Jasmine Scott nailed a three at 6:51 to restore the Titan lead to 56-48.

CSUN continued its push. Tulikihihifo hit a jumper at 6:11 and McCaa followed with a triple to cut the lead back down to three. Thomas scored again with 1:29 to make it a nine-point lead and Fullerton iced the game with five free-throws in the final seconds.

“We made some pretty good strides, but some inconsistencies hurt us in the end,” Schulz said.

Fullerton’s speed and shooting posed trouble for the Matadors early in the game. Fullerton shot 16-39 in the first half, including 7-16 from the three-point line.

“I would have liked to use our size more, but I knew that it was going to be a problem with our match-up against them (Fullerton). They can hit some shots from 3-point range.”

Despite the loss and the end of the season, the CSUN women’s basketball program has come quite a long way, from three wins in 2003 and six wins the following year to two straight Big West Tournament seminal appearances and challenging for the conference title deep into the season, the last three years could bode pretty well for the future of the program.

“The seniors set the bar higher for this program,” Tulikihihifo said. “It’s great to look back as see how far this program has come.”