When UC Irvine came into the Matadome on Jan. 24, CSUN was going thru mini-chaos.
The news of its leading scorer, Deon Tresvant, not being able to play was still fresh. The Matadors had managed to win two games without him only to drop the next two while making Head Coach Bobby Braswell sick to his stomach with back-to-back sub-par defensive performances. The lowlight of the span was a Jan. 21 home loss to Cal State Fullerton, 91-87, where the Titans shot 51 percent overall.
‘Giving up 91 points to Fullerton changed a lot of things,’ Braswell said.
Starting with the Anteaters, the Matadors went on a string of six games where they held their rivals to an average of 37.7 percent shooting. All of those were wins. It was change they could believe in.
Then, Saturday night happened. Valentine’s Day had little love for CSUN’s starting point guard Josh Jenkins. He was in a car accident. While friends are just thankful he’s alive, the senior leader who averages 10.2 points and 6.0 assists per game is likely to miss the rest of the season. A report from KRQE, a New Mexico TV news station, said he’ll be out at least six weeks. The regular season ends in three.
That isn’t change the Matadors want to believe in.
‘I really couldn’t believe it when I heard. I had just talked to him that night,’ said Mark Hill, Jenkins’ backup who, by a twist of fate, just got a whole lot more responsibility. ‘To lose Josh right now is really hurting us. He was playing really well. He’s the heart and soul of the team.’
Jenkins’ soul and healing body will be resting at the California Medical Center in Los Angeles for a few more days before he’s released. Meanwhile, his teammates still have to try out the new change. They start that tonight at Irvine, against the Anteaters again.
UC Irvine isn’t in its finest hour. The Anteaters have dropped three straight games and are in seventh place in the nine-team Big West Conference.
In previous years, it hasn’t mattered what UC Irvine’s record has been or what kind of streak it’s been on. For the past three seasons, at the Brens Events Center, the Anteaters have handled CSUN.
Some Matadors couldn’t believe that one either.
‘We haven’t won at UC Irvine since I’ve been here?’ Asked Rob Haynes, a senior. ‘I’m surprised.
Three Anteaters average over 10 points per game (forward Eric Wise, 13.3 ppg, guard Michael Hunter, 11.5 ppg, and forward Kevin Bland, 10.5 ppg). Last season, UCI was a game shy of making the NCAA Tournament.
The Matadors don’t want to say they were a point guard shy of reaching the prestigious tournament for the first time since 2001. All eyes are on Hill.
‘I feel I can lead this team,’ Hill said. ‘I’ve been playing basketball forever. I’m just going to try to bring the leadership, heart, soul and passion Josh had.’
Forcefully, something’s bound to change tonight.