Men’s basketball: Improving Matadors host UCSB


Stephan Hicks and the Matadors also face Long Beach State Saturday. Photo Credit: Daniel Hoyos / Contributor

Gilberto Manzano

Stephan Hicks and the Matadors also face Long Beach State Saturday. Photo Credit: Daniel Hoyos / Contributor

Redshirt freshman Stephan Hicks has had a huge load to carry on offense for the Matadors. But in the last two games, his teammates have made his job easier.

CSUN put arguably its best scoring effort of the season during last week’s split against Cal State Fullerton at home Thursday and Saturday on the road against Cal State Bakersfield. In the two games combined, the Matadors shot more than 50 percent from the field, a big improvement over their season average of 37 percent.

“We were executing on offense, a lot of guys were making plays,” said Hicks, who scored a career-high 26 points at Bakersfield. “Guys were getting wide-open shots and they were knocking down the shots, that’s why we have a lot of guys scoring in double figures.”

In what CSUN head coach Bobby Braswell called “our best-execution game all year,” CSUN had four players score 10 points or more and shot a scorching 61 percent from the floor against the Roadrunners.

Northridge will take its scoring momentum into tonight’s Big West Conference game against UC Santa Barbara at the Matadome.

Prior to its turnaround on offense, CSUN had a rough time scoring against the Gauchos in a 69-61 loss at the Thunderdome on Jan. 19. The Matadors took a whopping 72 shots and only converted on 24 for a 33.3 field-goal percentage. It was just as bad at the three-point line as CSUN went 4-of-23 from long range (17 percent).

“We shot a lot of threes and took a lot of quick shots,” CSUN guard Vinnie McGhee said. “If we take the right shots, hit our spots, everybody does what they need to do, play great defense, I think we’ll be alright.”

Many of the Matadors felt they rushed shots that night, but they now feel they’ve learned to be patient on offense. CSUN took 56 field goal attempts (16 three-pointers) against Cal State Fullerton and only 41 (15 three-pointers) versus Cal State Bakersfield.

“It finally came together, good defense coupled with good offense. Guys trusting the system and letting the system work for them really paid off,” Braswell said. “The main reason why we’ve been struggling to score is our execution had been very poor.

“We were not setting good screens, we were not executing good plays, we had guys breaking plays and trying to do things on their own. They weren’t trusting the system enough.”

In the last two games, the Matadors have combined for 16 made 3-pointers, eight in each game.

The Gauchos are led by Big West scoring leader Orlando Johnson, who averages 19 points per game. Johnson dropped 30 points on the Matadors during last season’s Big West Tournament semifinals where UCSB won 83-63. This season, Johnson had a game-high 21 points during the Gauchos’ win over CSUN at the Thunderdome.

“He got all of his buckets late that game. We kind of held him down until the last part of the game,” said McGhee about the defense on Johnson during the Jan. 19 match. “We need to stay focused and be aware of him.”