It was the perfect first half for CSUN.
After getting pummeled at UCLA to start the 2010-11 season, the Matadors responded with a slim 37-36 halftime lead over UC Berkeley.
It was going so well for the Matadors that they were able to surpass their three-point and assist totals against the Bruins in one half against the Golden Bears.
But all the effort came crashing down for Northridge as Cal opened the second half with a 15-2 run and never looked back, defeating the Matadors 80-63 in its season opener at Haas Pavilion.
“In the second half our mentality changed. This is a perfect example of a young basketball team,” CSUN head coach Bobby Braswell said. “To play a great first half and come in to halftime (with a lead) and instead of building on that, we changed our mind set.”
Senior guard/forward Rashaun McLemore, who had a game-high 24 points for the Matadors, said the team got overly excited going into halftime with the lead.
“We were up on a bigtime team and felt satisfied but we all know basketball isn’t 20 minutes,” McLemore said.
CSUN was able to get a five-point advantage in the first half by knocking down six three-pointers while shooting 52 percent from the field, but went ice cold going one for eight to start the second half.
Northridge’s shooting dry spell led to a 21-point deficit, its biggest in the game.
The Golden Bears had a significant advantage in free throw attempts, shooting from the charity stripe 50 times compared to the Matadors’ 16.
Berkeley missed 19 free throws for the game, disappointing head coach Mike Montgomery in the process.
“That’s discouraging and I scolded the guys,” Montgomery said. “CSUN is very aggressive and they fouled, but we miss the free throws and we came out with empty possessions.”
The Matadors didn’t get to the free throw line until the 4:04 mark in the first half and only had eight free throw attempts (five-of-eight) the entire half, compared with 22 for the Golden Bears (14-of-22).
One of the few second-half bright spots for CSUN in the final 20 minutes of play was McLemore, who scored 12 straight points for the Matadors, cutting Cal’s lead to 11 points at 63-52.
This prompted Montgomery to assign his Pac-10 All-Defensive guard Jorge Gutierrez to slow down McLemore.
“(McLemore) shot lights out. He got going and streaking and he made his shot a lot on freshman kids. When we put Jorge (Gutierrez) on him, all of sudden the faucet turned off,” Montgomery said. “It won’t happen with Jorge, and that’s just experience.”
McLemore didn’t care about his scoring and said defense was the reason why they lost.
“We didn’t play defense in the second half. It’s defense first,” McLemore said. “It doesn’t matter how many points you score. You have to clean it up on defense.”
Northridge started the game hot from three-point range, scoring its first four field goals from downtown and finishing the half six-of-nine.
The Matadors had a lead or a tie in the final 9:03 of the first half.
Northern California native Michael Lizarraga contributed 15 points for the Matadors. For the second consecutive game, Lenny Daniel was held to one point.
Gutierrez led Cal in scoring with 18 points and Mark Sanders-Frison chipped in 15 points.
CSUN finished the game 23-of-57 from the field (40.4 percent) and eight-of-22 from long range (36.4 percent).
Despite the cold second half, the Matadors forced Cal into 15 turnovers and allowed only five three-pointers.
In Friday’s blowout loss at UCLA, CSUN only managed six assists and two three-pointers for the entire game, but against Cal they recorded eight assists and six three-pointers in the first period alone.
Next up, the Matadors return to the Matadome for their home opener Saturday against Vanguard.
Video by Victor Corona
Senior guard Rashaun McLemore talks about CSUN’s second half let down against Cal.
Video by Victor Corona
Braswell talks about CSUN’s strong 20 minutes in the first half and what happened in the second half as the Matadors lost at Haas Pavilion