No. 8 is better than No. 5

Eric Gonzalez

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With new jerseys and a new look, the Matadors women’s basketball team showed the Big West Conference why they deserved the eighth spot in its tournament, beating the fifth-seeded Aggies, 64-56, on Wednesday at the Anaheim Convention Center. CSUN advanced to the quarterfinals and face No. 3 Cal Poly today at noon.

With the new look came a new star in sophomore Analee Viena-Lota, who scored a game-high 21 points.

What went unnoticed, though, was the way in which she disrupted UC Davis in the back court as the Matadors slowed down the Aggies with full-court press defense.

‘Viena-Lota is a big guard,’ said UC Davis point guard Genevieve Costello said of the Matador, who’s actually listed as a forward. ‘She is long and she didn’t really allow us to get the ball back to the inbounder.’

Her performance took the game away from UC Davis.

‘We went with a smaller lineup so that we could make the game ours,’ Matadors Head Coach Staci Schulz said. ‘By pressuring them in the back court, we were able to make them speed up their Princeton offense.’

The Princeton offense, based on running and cutting, takes time to execute. With the defensive pressure, UC Davis could not carry it out effectively.

Slowing down the Aggie offense was one thing, but stopping forward Paige Mintun was a bigger accomplishment.

The 6-foot-2 sophomore was the Aggies’ top scorer and ranked sixth in the Big West in total points.

In the two regular-season match-ups against CSUN, Mintun scored 18 and 25 points. On Wednesday, she had 13 in one half, but went scoreless the rest of the way.

Mintun said the Matadors were aware of her at every moment and didn’t allow her to get the basketball. CSUN forward Katrina Thompson was in charge of defending her. Thompson also had 18 points and six rebounds.

‘We call her ‘train,” Schulz said of Thompson. ‘She was our engine, not the caboose. She is savvy and a smart ball player.’

Thompson gave much of the credit to the team’s extra practice members, who are males.

‘I give big ups to our practice players,’ Thompson said. ‘They really helped us prepare for the game.’

The game’s top rebounder was Northridge point guard Tonicia Tademy. She had seven rebounds as well as seven assists. The Matadors grabbed 40 rebounds in the game compared to Davis’ 37. Even though the margin wasn’t large, it was a sigh of relief. In the teams’ previous meeting, the Aggies had outrebounded Northridge 40-27.

There were a few statistics that seemed unreal ‘- like the rebounding – but what seemed the most unreal was the win itself. CSUN had barely snuck into the tournament with a win on its last regular-season game.

‘The bottom line is a lot of pride goes out to my team,’ Schulz said. ‘We were tenacious and we have prevailed in the last two games.’

UC Davis Head Coach Sandy Simpson didn’t want to use formalities, but said he respected what Northridge was able to do.

‘They have dealt with so much adversity and have been able to assimilate,’ Simpson said. ‘My hat goes off to them and now their season gets to continue.’

In their assimilation, the Matadors were able to score inside the paint more, something they had difficulty with in the teams’ prior meeting.

‘The change wasn’t in what we saw in the film, but what they saw,’ Schulz said. ‘They knew that they needed to get out there to guard us and we were successful when ‘Train’ was able to get the ball at the top of the key.’

In the end, CSUN was able to keep the ball away from Davis and, with a couple of ‘back breaking’ threes, the Matadors pulled off the victory, Schulz said.

And now it’s on to try for a second consecutive upset, against Cal Poly. The Mustangs are another team the Matadors have played close this season. In their last match-up, the Matadors had the game in their hands, but a few mental mistakes gave up the game. CSUN lost 70-60.

With the team’s versatility, the ability to match up well against anyone, the Matadors have a shot at playing three more games in the tournament, Schulz said.