Coming off a big overtime victory against UC Riverside in their first game of the Big West Tournament, the Matador women looked to knock off the No. 1 seeded Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara, Friday, and advance to the tournament finals.
To accomplish such a feat over UCSB would require the Matadors overcome a 14-game losing streak spanning more than 20 years. The end of the streak will have to wait another year though, as UCSB beat the Matadors 79-67 to advance to the Championship game.
The Gauchos started the game off quickly, scoring on their first possession of the game with a mid-ranged jump shot by senior point guard Mia Fisher. The Matadors looked as though they were up to the task, answering with a score of their own by sophomore LaJoyce King, tying it at 2-2.
This was as close as the Matadors would get to victory against UCSB.
Santa Barbara, over the next seven minutes, ran out to an 18-4 lead, controlling the floor on both offense and defense and forcing CSUN to call a timeout. Following the timeout, the Gauchos continued their hot streak, stretching the lead to 34-13.
As the game was looking to be a blowout by UCSB, King gave the Matadors life scoring eight of her 17 points in the game, including a long three-pointer, all within the last six minutes of the first half.
With the momentum slightly shifting back toward the Matadors, the Gauchos found themselves saved by the bell as the buzzer sounded, ending the first half of play with a score of 41-30.
As the second half got under way, the Matadors tried desperately to hang around with the surging Gauchos, but the impressive shooting by Fisher and sheer dominance by senior All-American Kristen Mann, made their goal impossible.
UCSB managed to stretch their lead once again, this time to an 18-point advantage.
Nonetheless, junior forward Ofa Tulikihihifo continued playing impressively despite having just returned from a knee injury. She scored a game high 24 points, 18 of which came in the second half.
For UCSB Fisher was red-hot, making an unheard of 9-10 from the field and scoring 20 points. Mann registered a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Although the Matadors’ season is now over, they have made remarkable progress from last season, more than tripling their win total to 18, with just 11 losses.
“We are confident and we have grown as a team,” Tulikihihifo said after the game. “We are ranked last in the pre-season poll and to make it this far (…) we were out there trying to gain respect.”
“We had a great season,” said Tammy Holder, women’s basketball coach for the Matadors. “I’m proud of these girls. We want to make CSUN proud.”
The Matadors will have the opportunity to try again next season by having all their starters back.
UCSB went on to win the Big West Tournament by outplaying the Vandals 74-66, and earning a bid to represent the Big West in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
Mann won the All-Tournament MVP award while Tulikihihifo came away with an MVP honor.