The Big West Tournament got underway in Anaheim with the No. 4 seed CSUN women?s basketball team matched up against the No. 5 seed Highlanders of UC Riverside.
The Matadors entered the tournament as winners of 10 out of their last 13 games. One of their three losses was just a week prior at home against the same UC Riverside team.
The ladies were looking to get redemption.
The first half started off slow with neither team shooting more than 30 percent from the field. However, the Matadors took an early 20-19 halftime lead, which was primarily sparked by a 10 point first period effort from Krisztina Fuleki.
The two teams shot poorly during the first half and fans appeared to be more interested, at times, in the half-time competition between the two school mascots, which the Matador handily won.
The second half, however, was a different story for both teams, each coming out red-hot. Riverside started off the half with a quick lay-up to take an early second half lead. Though only seconds after, Matador Fuleki took a mid-range jump shot to tie up the game. The Matadors had trouble containing the 6 foot 1 inch freshman Kemie Nkele of Riverside as she scored 11 of her 16 points during the second half.
During the last three minutes of the game, tension began to show as both teams could not close each other out. The two teams kept trading baskets. Junior forward Heather Cushing scored three momentum-shifting field goals against Riverside?s Nkele, who throughout the game was a dominating force in the middle.
With a little over a minute to go, the Matadors had only a one-point lead. That is when their star, Ofa Tulikihihifo, who just returned from a knee injury, kept the ladies? basketball season alive by hitting a crucial mid-ranged jumper with 32 seconds remaining, giving the ladies a three-point lead.
Then, with just a few seconds separating the Matadors from playing against the No. 1 seed Santa Barbara in the semi-finals, UC Riverside?s Cassandra Reeves hit an uncontested three-pointer squaring the game at 50-50, sending it into overtime.
?Well, that wasn?t how we drew it up, but it happened and that?s what makes games exciting,? said Tammy Holder, coach of the women?s Matador basketball team, regarding CSUN?s defense against UC Riverside?s regulation ending three-pointer.
In the extended period it was all CSUN, with Tulikihihifo, scoring nine of the Matadors final 12 points, delivering the CSUN women a victory and chance to take on the No. 1 seeded Gaucho?s of Santa Barbara in the semi-finals. Junior forward Tulikihihifo showed no signs of tiring scoring all of the field goals for CSUN in the five-minute overtime. Early in the overtime period, Highlander center Nkele fouled out of the game. With Nkele on the bench, the Matadors got their opportunity to dominate the offense.
?You have to give them credit, they were very aggressive,? said John Margaritis, UC Riverside?s coach regarding the Matador defense.
The Matadors demonstrated just how much they wanted to win by executing down the stretch, something the Highlanders failed to do. The Highlanders did however have a slim chance late in the overtime period to hoist up a long three-pointer and making it close, but confusion on offense got the better of UC Riverside resulting in a broken play as time expired.
?We certainly didn?t want the game to go to overtime, but the good guys won,? Holder said.