CSUN’s men’s basketball face tough challenge on road

Gilberto Manzano

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FRESH FOCUS: CSUN’s Josh Greene has provided a spark for the Matadors off the bench. He had a career high 17 points against UC Riverside at the Matadome. Photo Credit: Monique Muñiz/ Sports Editor

Even with a new defense-first mentality, Cal State Northridge still hasn’t managed to record a road victory.

After a 2-2 homestand, the Matadors will play their next three games on the road, starting with UC Irvine on Thursday and UC Santa Barbara on Saturday in Big West play.

“Two tough games, two opportunities (to win a road game),” said CSUN head coach Bobby Braswell about his Matadors, who are 0-7 on the road this season. “We are not looking at them as obstacles, they are opportunities and at some point we will get one on the road.”

CSUN, who hasn’t allowed its opponents to score more than 75 points in the last five games, has moved up from last to seventh in scoring defense in the Big West. The Matadors are giving up 72.9 points per game, which is better than Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State.

Northridge (6-13, 3-3 Big West) will be tested on defense against UC Irvine (10-10, 3-3 Big West) who leads the conference in scoring offense with 75.2 points per game.

“There is no secret, especially in the game against Irvine on Thursday night, they are a very good offensively and it’s going to be tough going on the road to play somebody at home that is a good offensive team,” Braswell said. “We got our work cut out but our guys are working hard (in practice).”

In the last three games Braswell has integrated the “five points and one offensive rebound rule,” which means if the lineup on the court gives up five points or an offensive rebound, Braswell will bench all five players and put in a different unit.

“They (the players) will tell you we’re not messing around (on defense during practices),” Braswell said.

Last season the Matadors lost both games to the Anteaters by a combined margin of eight points. CSUN lost at home 65-62 (Jan. 7, 2010) and at UC Irvine 79-74 (Feb. 27, 2010), a game Braswell remembers well.

CSUN was down 75-74 with 23 seconds left in regulation and Braswell drew up a play for former Matador Kenny Daniels to provide a clutch play, but Daniels turned the ball over. The Anteaters went on to score their next four points at the free throw line.

“We had possession and Kenny Daniels had a play for him and we just fluffed it away,” Braswell said.

The Anteaters are led by first-year head coach Russell Turner, who came from the NBA as an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors.

“New coach, new system, new things that they’re doing over there in Irvine,” said Braswell, who has coached at CSUN for 15 years. “We got to defend, that’s the bottom line.”

Anteater senior guard Darren Moore is third in the Big West in points scored per game with 16.8 and junior forward Eric Wise is averaging 16.2 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game in the last five games.

On Saturday the Matadors will have their hands full against UC Santa Barbara’s dynamic duo of Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally.

Johnson and Nunnally are one and two respectively in points scored per game in the Big West. Johnson averages 19.3 and Nunnally 18.2.

UCSB is the defending Big West champion, but have gotten to a slow start in Big West play. The Gauchos (10-7, 3-3 Big West) are tied for fourth place in the conference standing with CSUN, UC Irvine and Pacific.

Last season Northridge and UCSB split its two meetings with both teams winning at home. The Matadors were able to cut a 26-point deficit at UCSB to two points with 25 seconds left in regulation, but the Gauchos made their free throws down the stretch to close the game and hand CSUN a 74-69 defeat on Feb. 25, 2010.

This season the Matadors have come up short on the road multiple times.

“We are getting close on the road,” Matador senior guard Raymond Cody said. “We haven’t been fortunate to come out with the win. It’s about closing ball games. A lot of road games we had little breakdowns. We just have to stay mentally focused throughout the whole game.”