Women’s basketball wins first game of Big West Tournament

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The women’s basketball team etched out a win against No. 5 seed UC Riverside Thursday in overtime, advancing the team in the Big West Tournament with a 62-58 victory.

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 for redemption on Thursday.

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 half 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 Matadors 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. Only a few seconds later, 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, both teams began to show frustration at not being able to close each other out.

Instead, the teams just traded baskets and points.

Junior forward Heather Cushing scored three momentum-shifting field goals against Riverside’s Nkele, who was a dominating force in mid-court throughout the game.

With a little over a minute to go, the Matadors had only a one-point lead. That was when Ofa Tulikihihifo, who just returned from a knee injury, hit a crucial mid-range jumper with 32 seconds remaining, giving the ladies a three-point lead.

Then UC Riverside’s Cassandra Reeves hit a three-pointer squaring the game at 50 and sending it into overtime.

“Well, that wasn’t how we drew it up, but it happened, and that’s what makes (a) game exciting,” said Tammy Holder, women’s Matador basketball coach, regarding CSUN’s defense against UC Riverside’s regulation ending three-pointer.

The extended period was dominated by 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 Santa Barbara in the semifinals.

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.

Junior forward Tulikihihifo showed no signs of tiring, by scoring all of the field goals for CSUN in the five-minute overtime.

“You have to give them credit, they were very aggressive,” said John Margaritis, UC Riverside’s coach regarding the Matador defense.