With eight Big West games completed, Cal State Northridge will open the second half of the conference schedule only trailing Long Beach State for first place.
The Matadors, who are on a four-game winning streak in league play, head out on the road to meet UC Riverside tonight and return home to face UC Irvine on Saturday night.
After going through every Big West team once, CSUN came out with a 5-3 record. However, it was a rough start for the Matadors as they lost three of their first four league games.
The last time CSUN lost a conference game was at home against UC Riverside on Jan. 13.
The Matadors cut the Highlanders lead to three with 1:10 left in regulation, but missed free throws ended CSUN’s momentum. UCR closed the game on an 8-2 run to take a 70-61 victory.
The loss snapped CSUN’s 12-game winning streak over the Highlanders.
“We were a different team last time and we are a new team now with a defensive mindset and tougher mentally,” said Matador freshman Josh Greene.
In the last three games CSUN hasn’t allowed its opponents to score 70 points and haven’t allowed 80 points or more since Jan. 5 at Long Beach State.
The Highlanders have gone on the opposite direction of CSUN. After beating the Matadors, UC Riverside has gone on a four-game losing streak and sits in last place in the Big West.
One reason why the Matadors have been successful lately is because they are closing out teams. In two games last week, CSUN pulled out down to the wire victories over UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara on the road.
Senior guard Rashaun McLemore played pivotal roles in both games and was named Big West Player of the Week.
“That’s a good award, but I would have never got it without my teammates, so I share that with my teammates,” McLemore said. “Most importantly we got the wins, so it wouldn’t of matter if I got it or not.”
With CSUN holding on to a slim one-point lead with 22 seconds left, McLemore knocked down a 3-pointer off the backboard as the shot clocked expired and lifting the Matadors past UC Irvine.
At UC Santa Barbara McLemore scored 23 points in the second half and had a game-saving steal with five seconds left that prevented the Gauchos from tying the game.
Greene said the recent victories push the team to continue playing hard.
“When you have a little bit of success and know how good it feels, you just want to keep it up,” Greene said.
CSUN’s deep roster is another reason why they are in second place in the Big West.
The Matador bench scored 76 points last week and only allowed 19 points to the UCSB and UC Irvine benches.
“Everyone is capable of contributing; you never know who is going to step up on what night. I think our bench is one of the best benches in the (Big West) league, so I think that is to our advantage,” Greene said.