For the 13th-seeded public school who gave a top-tiered private university a tough fight in the first round of the 2015 NCAA tournament Saturday, it was either show up expecting to win, or not at all.
Despite falling 73-60, there was a point in the game where CSUN overtook fourth-seeded Stanford University, and had the Cardinal swaying wildly in the wind.
“We aren’t the little engine that could,” CSUN head coach Jason Flowers said. “We shed that a while ago.”
This loss marks the end of the 2014-2015 season for CSUN, as well as the college career for its starting seniors, that, over the past two seasons, led the program to a glory it has never seen before.
Five years ago, CSUN was the bottom conference team and only pulled four wins for the entire 2010-2011 season.
It wasn’t a good first year for Flowers, but with time he would assemble a team that would put CSUN on the women’s basketball map.
Starting last year, they came back from a slow start to the season, and went on to take both regular season and tournament titles for the Big West.
This year, they lost the outright championship to the University of Hawai’i, but came back in the Big West Tournament to shut down the Rainbow Wahine and claim the tournament championship.
For the five starters that led them to success, the game against Stanford was their last under the Matador name.
“Going from freshman year to having just our family in the stands to having a full crowd at our senior night (this year),” Guay said. “I didn’t expect any of this.”
CSUN at first looked like it was going to live up to the expected predictions as they battled against the PAC-12 team in Stanford, California. They fell behind quickly after tipoff, and Stanford pulled an 8-0 run before CSUN responded with a jump shot from senior guard Ashlee Guay.
From there, CSUN treaded water for much of the half, but starting at 8:41, CSUN began an 11-0 run that put them one point ahead of Stanford at the halftime buzzer..
“There wasn’t jubilation in the huddle when we were on a 16-2 run, because that’s what we do,” Flowers said. “It didn’t matter that we were playing against Stanford.”
CSUN pushed Stanford to their limits — racking in rebounds and stressing their offense to shoot outside of the key. Northridge also managed to slap down some shots from the taller team and render their wing shooters ineffective.
Coming into the second half, CSUN kept up their groove for a short while and pulled a six-point lead over Stanford at 18:05. But things took a turn for the worse shortly after for Northridge.
“We had way too many breakdowns in the second half,” Flowers said. “I thought they were way more solid than we were in the second half.”
Stanford made adjustments that allowed them to shut down CSUN and work defense that stressed the opponent’s offense to depend solely on one player.
Though senior guard Ashlee Guay pulled the game-high 27 points that afternoon against Stanford, there wasn’t enough support from the team members to close the gap.
“Guay is obviously a really, really good player and difficult to guard,” Stanford guard Lili Thompson said.
No other CSUN player scored in double-digits, but Stanford managed a nice spread on the stats that saw four players pull more than 10 points each.
“We wanted to take away (Guay’s) favorite things, and I think she did a good job going to her second and third option,” Thompson said.
Though CSUN insisted that Stanford’s height did not affect them, the guards struggled inside the key. Senior guard Cinnamon Lister, along with Janae Sharpe and Guay, would go in to the key only to be pushed out by Stanford.
Stanford, on their side of the court, was working sophomore guard Thompson and with ten minutes left in the game she dealt damage that would seal a victory for her team.
CSUN fell behind by double-digits again as the game winded down, but they fought to the last minute and pulled up from Stanford’s runs.
“We’ve always been taught that you play through adversity,” Guay said. “That’s what we did this the whole season when we had losing streaks and we were not united as a team yet.”
Though the win went to the favored team, who has years of experience in the NCAA tournament and will be advance to the third round — they sure had to fight for it.
“This is the best team they ever had in their program. I can attest to that.” Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer, who secured her 800th career win against CSUN.