The Cal State Northridge women’s basketball team delivered upsets to the No. 6 UC Irvine Anteaters 66-64 on March 8, then followed that effort with a 74-70 win over the third-seeded Cal State Fullerton Titans March 9. But the Matadors lost to UC Santa Barbara in the semi-finals.
In the game against UCSB, CSUN fought hard, battling until the end and brought it’s a game, but the Gauchos had just enough to win.
UCSB escaped with a 66-61 victory to end he Matador season a couple steps short of its ultimate goal of a Big West Tournament victory and a trip to the NCAA tournament.
“I just wanted to win so badly,” King said through the tears. “Everybody didn’t expect us to get this far and we wanted to prove them wrong. We wanted to go all the way.”
UCSB’s win overshadowed the effort of King, who scored a team-high 18 points, but tied the school record for rebounds in a single game with 19. 12 of which were offensive end.
“It is interesting that she had more rebounds than points,” head coach Staci Schulz said. “The rebounding effort was extraordinary, and as far as putting two numbers together, it’s common, but not quite that high.”
Both teams made their first couple shots to start the game. Then Jessica Wilson and Ana Onaindia made back-to-back threes to springboard UCSB on a 17-6 run that gave the Gauchos a 21-10 lead.
UCSB’s lead peaked at 25-13 until CSUN made its move. Following two Holloway free throws, Markovich nailed a three to cut the lead into single digits.
The Matadors continued to slowly chip away at the lead, cutting it to 27-24 on a King three. Jenna Green responded for UCSB with a layup inside, which was countered by a Megan Ching score.
Karena Bonds made one of two free throws but King scored with 41 seconds left and Holloway blocked a last-second shot by LaShay Fears to keep the Gaucho lead at 30-28 at the half.
Fears started out the second half with two baskets to give UCSB a 34-28 lead.
CSUN wasn’t fazed as Holloway scored inside and back-to-back jumpers by junior Jamie McCaa, and Markovich tied the game at 34.
But the Gauchos answered right back, as they scored 11 in a row to take a 45-34 lead with 14:09.
CSUN, just as it did in the first half, countered with a furious rally.
Blake started things off with a three from the right side. Then following a Green basket, Holloway hit two free throws and a layup while drawing the foul on Green in the process. Holloway’s free throw cut the Gaucho lead to 47-42.
Both teams traded the next eight points, but McCaa answered with a three to cut the lead to two.
A foul on Autumn Nichols and another McCaa three gave CSUN a 52-51 lead with 6:32 left, its first of the game.
Shantel Thomas gave the Gauchos the lead back, but the Matadors raced back the other way.
King drove, attracting the UCSB defense, and kicked the ball out to Krisztina Fuleki, who came through, as she hit a three pointer at the top of the key to give CSUN a 55-53 lead with 5:17 left.
But the Gauchos made their final push. Whitney Warren hit a layup inside to tie the game, then LaShay Fears nailed a jumper to give Santa Barbara the lead, a lead they would not relinquish.
Jessica Wilson extended the lead to four on two free throws and a Green jumper gave the Gauchos a 61-55 lead, with 2:20 left.
Still, the Matadors wouldn’t give up, as King hit a pair of free throws and scored on a layup with just under a minute left to cut the lead to two.
Wilson, however, hit a running layup with 43 seconds left and drew the foul on Markovich and made the free throw to make it a five-point game.
Ching hit a layup with 34 seconds left, but two more Wilson free throws sealed the win for UCSB.
King’s 19 rebounds tied for the single game record, which she actually shared with Ofa Tulikihihifo. She grabbed 19 boards in a non-conference game against UC Davis back on Feb. 26, 2005, and Tulikihihifo’s 19 boards came against Cal State Fullerton on March 6, 2004.
King’s 12 offensive boards did set a school record, and her performance against the Gauchos earned her a place on the All-Big West Tournament team.
UCSB’s decade-long reign at the top of the Big West eventually came to an end, as it was upset by No. 4 UC Riverside 59-58 in the championship game.
Schulz commended the team for facing adversity head on during the year, from herself becoming the new head coach to losing star player Tulikihihifo to a foot injury during the year, an injury that would eventually force her to red-shirt the season.
“I’m very proud of Cal State Northridge basketball,” Schulz said. “As far as how the season went, I’m very proud on how we brought it to a close.”
Against UCI, Markovich delivered the biggest shot of her career. With the Matadors down 64-61, with 27 seconds left following two free throws by Anteater Angie Ned, CSUN got the ball down to its side of the court.
McCaa drove from the top of the key and drew the Anteater defense inside. McCaa quickly kicked the ball out to Markovich at the left side in front of the Matador bench. Markovich fired a three-point shot that swished perfectly through the net to tie the game at 64 with 19 seconds left.
“It’s been a rough four years, but it’s ending really well,” Markovich said. “It was definitely the biggest shot of my life.”
Irvine quickly got the ball to its side of the court, and gave it to Kimberly Martin in the post, but Martin missed a five footer and McCaa chased down and recovered the loose ball, then drew a foul on Annie Mai, putting her at the free-throw line for two shots with 0.9 seconds left.
McCaa calmly hit both free throws, and a last-second half-court heave by Kelly Cochran was well short, giving CSUN a dramatic come-from-behind victory.
I was a little nervous at first, but I wasn’t scared about shooting them,” McCaa said. “We work on free throws during practice, but it’s a different situation in the game. I have confidence when I shoot free throws and the team was there and not worried about it.”
The first half of action was hotly contested, as the lead switched seven times, and the game was tied on four different occasions. CSUN received a little scare when McCaa pulled up lame chasing a loose ball and had to sit out a while.
“I don’t like getting hurt and when I came off the court, I couldn’t feel my leg moving,” McCaa said. “But (trainer) Scott (Shaw) looked at me and said, ‘OK, you’re going to have to play with the pain or you can sit out.’ I didn’t want to sit out.”
CSUN’s lead peaked at seven on a McCaa three with 15 seconds left, but Annie Mai hit a running layup with four seconds left to cut the Matador lead to 38-33 at the break.
Irvine came out firing to start the second half, and went on a 14-4 run to lead 47-42, but CSUN didn’t panic, staying with Irvine until Holloway gave CSUN the lead back with 5:35 left. CSUN led 59-57, only to see UCI score five in a row to take a 62-59 lead on a Ned layup at 2:53.
Freshman Crystal Hahs hit two free throws to cut the lead down to one, following a missed jumper by Cochran.
CSUN had a chance to take the lead, but Ashley Blake’s entry pass to Heather Cushing was knocked away and recovered by Ned, who was fouled by Cushing with 27 seconds left.
CSUN’s size was evident, as the 6’4″ Holloway led CSUN with 13 points.
The 6’4″ Hahs had 10 points. King led the rebounding effort, as she grabbed 11 boards.
“I think the more chances you get, the more that your confidence boosts,” Holloway said. “After Long Beach, we had such a great team effort on defense and that just fuels you and give you more confidence, which leads to better shooting.”
The next day, the Matadors took the court against Fullerton.
The Titans jumped out to a 14-9 lead, but CSUN answered back as Holloway converted a three-point play and Markovich tied the game at 14.
Amber Pruitt gave Fullerton the lead
back and Charlee Underwood hit a three to raise the lead back to five.
McCaa ignited another Matador rally, as she nailed a three and a King score tied the game at 19. Holloway hit a short jumper to give CSUN its first lead at 21-19.
Audrey Taylor tied the game, but Holloway converted another three-point play to give the advantage back to the Matadors.
CSUN maintained its lead for the next four minutes, its biggest at 30-25 until Fullerton scored five quick points to tie at 30.
Junior Jazelle Burries gave CSUN the lead back, but Dayna Frias stroked a three from the top of the key to give the Titans the lead.
The two teams battled to a standstill the rest of the half, and the game was tied at 41 at the break.
Fullerton jumped out to a 45-41 lead to start the second half, but it didn’t last long, as CSUN rallied to tie the game.
Ching hit a jumper with 4:54 left to give CSUN a 67-66 lead, Frias missed a three at the other end and King grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
King made one of two free throws and Toni Thomas missed a layup and King grabbed another rebound and drew another foul and again made one of two free throws.
India McDaniel missed a three for the Titans, Holloway grabbed the rebound, and the Matadors quickly raced down court.
King drove past the Fullerton defense, but the ensuing layup would not stay in, but Holloway grabbed the rebound and converted the put-back layup to make it a five-point game.
Fullerton didn’t quit, as Thomas hit a jumper. Then after the Titan defense forced two Matador misses, Thomas hit another basket to cut the deficit to 71-70.
Both teams came up with defensive stops, then Amber Pruitt stepped up to the free-throw line with 22 seconds left and a chance to give Fullerton the lead.
Pruitt, however, missed both free throws and Holloway grabbed the rebound.
Holloway was fouled moments later and hit both free throws. Andrea Adams missed desperation three, and McCaa grabbed the rebound and was sent to the free-throw line, where she hit one of two to seal the win.
McCaa led the Matadors with 20 points, while Holloway finished with 16 points.
King registered a double double, as she scored 15 points and grabbed 13 boards, and Markovich added 11 points.
Ivan Yeo can be reached at sports_sundial.csun.edu.