Seniors Heather Cushing, Alexis Johnson and Cassandra Markovich went out victorious on Seniors’ Night in their last home game as the Cal State Northridge women’s basketball team beat the Pacific Tigers, 80-59 Feb. 25 at the Matadome.
All seniors were named starters for the game as they combined for 15 points and seven rebounds while junior Jamie McCaa led the way with her second double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
With the Matadors’ third consecutive win, they improved to 8-17 overall and 5-7 in the Big West. The last-place Tigers dropped to 6-19 and 3-9 in the conference with its second straight loss.
“The last game we played against (Pacific), we came out flat and dead,” McCaa said, referring to the Jan. 4 match-up at Pacific where the Matadors lost 58-56. “This time it was a little payback.”
Indeed, it was payback as the Matadors scored the first 10 points of the game as Johnson opened the onslaught with a three-pointer to make it 3-0 CSUN within the first 30 seconds of play. It took nearly five minutes for Pacific to get on the scoreboard as Karen Dawkins hit a jumper to make it 10-2 with 15:35 remaining in the first half.
“Coach ( head coach Staci Schulz) stressed defense,” Johnson said. “We knew if we took care of the defensive side that our offense would come naturally.”
Pacific’s Carolina Ruiz cut the CSUN lead with a layup to six, but that would be the closest the Tigers would get in the first half as the Matadors displayed defensive intensity by going another five minutes without allowing a point. Markovich responded to Ruiz’s layup by grabbing an offensive rebound and making a jumper seconds later.
Sophomore Katie Holloway capped off the 14-0 run with an offensive rebound resulting in a layup giving CSUN an 18-point advantage, 22-4, its largest lead in the first half.
Pacific’s Renee Roberts got the Tigers back in the game, making three from beyond-the-arc in an 18-7 run to shrink CSUN’s lead to 29-22 with 3:26 remaining in the first half.
CSUN used a 7-0 run to go back up by 14 points and would eventually take a 38-25 halftime lead.
The Matadors shot an efficient 16-for-33, making 49 percent from the field while the Tigers also were a respectable 10-for-24, shooting 42 percent from the field. The teams were identical from beyond-the-arc, both making 4-7 from three-point land.
“We’re getting into the passing lanes a lot better,” Schulz said. “When teams are back-dooring us, we have a lot of help.”
The second half started off similar to the first with CSUN applying pressure defense early as McCaa stole Pacific’s first possession from Roberts, going coast to coast and getting fouled by Roberts. McCaa made the first free throw but missed the second.
Momentum, however, shifted as Lavender would spark Pacific’s last run by knocking down a three-pointer to give the Tigers their first points in the second half, making it 39-28 with 18:35 left in regulation.
Twenty-seven seconds later, Ruiz hit a three-pointer to cut the Matadors lead to single digits, 39-31.
During the Tigers’ run, the Matadors were outscored 20-10 as Roberts capped off the attack, draining another three-pointer to get as close as three points with 13:39 left in the game.
Pacific, however, did not get any closer as CSUN used a 10-1 run, taking a 58-46 lead with 9:35 left in the game. Markovich started the run by hitting a jumper to extend the Matadors’ lead to five points. McCaa capped the run with a steal that led to a Holloway mid-range jumper that resulted in a Tigers’ timeout.
The Matadors maintained a double-digit lead for the last nine minutes of the game and won by 21.
All three seniors, Cushing, Johnson and Markovich received a roaring ovation from the crowd as they came out of the game with CSUN leading 78-59 with 54 seconds remaining.
“They are amazing in practice and leaders on the team,” McCaa said of the three seniors. “We all look up to them. We’re definitely going to miss them.”
Reflecting back on their last home games, the three seniors all felt sad but know that the end has not arrived as they have two more road games and the tournament coming up.
“I didn’t think it was going to hit me this hard,” Markovich said. “The game was so fun when Alexis hit that three-pointer. That was the best part of the whole game.”
“We have a couple of more weeks left but I’m going to miss everybody,” Johnson said.
Added Cushing, “We’re trying to go out on a winning streak.”
For the game, the Matadors shot 51 percent, marking the first time since Dec. 1-2, 1990 that the women’s basketball team shot 50 percent or better in consecutive games.
The Tigers shot only 39 percent from the field, and were led by Ruiz with 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting.
Two days before the seniors celebrated their victorious last home win, the Matadors battled their biggest rivals of the season, Long Beach State 49ers, at the Walter Pyramid on Feb. 23.
“They killed us by like 40 points at home,” McCaa said, referring to the lopsided loss to Long Beach State, 62-102 on Jan. 15. “We kind of have a little rivalry with (Long Beach State) so coming into that game, we were pumped up.”
The game played of Feb. 23 was a different story as the Matadors were able to pull off the upset, 77-62 against the second-place 49ers.
Holloway earned her first double-double in her collegiate career with 17 points and 11 rebounds against the 49ers as the Matadors completed a second half comeback victory in convincing fashion.
CSUN staggered to open the game, missing its first five shots and falling behind early. With five minutes left in the first half, the Matadors trailed 27-26 but the 49ers went on an 8-4 run to end the first half.
The Matadors shot only 9-for-26 for 35 percent shooting from the field in the first half while the 49ers fared better with a 13-for-33 performance for 39 percent.
Analyzing the game against Long Beach State, Cushing and the rest of the Matadors knew what to do in the second half to rally against the 49ers.
“Stopping their transition defense,” Cushing said. “That’s where their offense comes from and we just worked on getting back early.”
Although the Matadors trailed going into intermission 12 times this year, CSUN never came back to erase a second half deficit and win this season. Nonetheless, the 13th try proved to be the charm as CSUN attacked early, going on a 21-8 run to take a 52-41 lead in the first eight minutes of the second half.
The Matadors lead would not fall below four points the rest of the way as CSUN won by 15.
The Matadors were on fire from the field, recording an astounding 19-for-30 from the field for 63 percent shooting in the second half. Overall, CSUN shot 50 percent compared to 36 percent shooting by the 49ers.
Three other Matadors were also able to record double figures in scoring as junior LaJoyce King put up 15 points and seven rebounds, junior Megan Ching had 11 points and six boards and McCaa had 13 points in the Long Beach State win.
“Beating Cal State Fullerton made us more confident,” McCaa said, referring to game played before the Long Beach State match-up. “Now that we’re getting on that winning streak, our confidence level is getting higher.”
The Matadors next game will be at Cal Poly on March 2 at 7 p.m. The last meeting between the Mustangs and CSUN was dominated by Cal Poly 83-53 Jan 28 in Northridge.
Arthur Vong can be reached at email@example.com.