Tulikihihifo as serious as they come on the court

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Ofa Tulikihihifo hates to lose. She works hard during the season and in the off-season to help the team win.

When the team doesn’t win, Tulikihihifo takes it very seriously. If she plays a bad game, she puts it upon herself to do better the next game.

“My friends hate me after a loss,” Tulikihihifo said. “I think about a loss until the next game. Even then it’s horrible. I take it pretty bad. If I’ve done bad and I could’ve helped out the team and we lost, of course I’m going to take it upon myself to spend more time in the gym alone.”

Tulikihihifo has plenty of time to think about the Matadors most recent loss in the Big West Conference Tournament semifinals to eventual champion, UC Santa Barbara. Tulikihihifo gave it her all, while playing at less then full strength, but the junior forward was unable to carry her team to victory, suffering a season-ending 79-67 loss.

Now, after having been named to the 2005 Big West All-Tournament Team, Tulikihihifo will have to wait until next year to get back on the court. This summer may not be a normal one for her though.

After suffering a knee injury while playing Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Tulikihihifo, will have to spend countless hours trying to rehabilitate her partially torn ACL. The fact she was able to play at all, let alone play well, is an amazing feat in itself.

Before the tournament began, it was evident that she would do her best to play, because of how important she viewed the tournament as being.

“The overall picture is the tourney,” Tulikihihifo said.

The knee injury occurred Jan. 22 during a game in which Tulikihihifo scored a game-high 22 points in a double overtime victory, the Matadors eighth straight. After the game, MRI results revealed the tear in her ACL.

“I was just being quicker than my body,” Tulikihihifo said. “I was sprinting side to side, trying to defend the girl, and she was cutting left and right. Then I remember going left and bouncing on (my knee and) hyper extending it. As soon as I did that, I kind of bounced off it. Ever since it happened, I was like, ‘Wow, something’s gone wrong with it.'”

Tulikihihifo was forced to sit out the next five games before the tournament, during which time the Matadors skidded to a 2-3 finish. As much as Tulikihihifo hates losing, she said she hates sitting and watching her team lose even more. Against UCSB in the first game after her injury, she was forced to do just that.

“It was a huge game,” she said. “It was all a big shock, to sit there and watch (the blowout regular season loss to UCSB).”

She wanted to play because she saw UCSB as being one of CSUN’s biggest rivals and one of the best teams in the Big West. She said she believed a win over UCSB would have been a big win.

The Matadors were victorious against Pacific and UC Davis in their next two road games, and Tulikihihifo was proud of her teammates for winning the games without her on the court. Tulikihihifo said she saw the team step up during those final two road games.

“I definitely saw the confidence,” Tulikihihifo says.

Tulikihihifo, whose first name Ofa means love in her Tongan culture, was recruited by CSUN to join the women’s basketball team a few years back. In her freshmen season, Tulikihihifo played in all 26 games, starting 23 of them.

She averaged 30.5 minutes a game, and led the team in scoring with 14.2 points and rebounding with 7.6 per game. At the end of the season she was awarded with such honors as Big West Freshman of the Year and was named to the All Freshmen Team, All Big West Team, and womenshoops.com Freshmen All American Team.

She returned her sophomore season and started all 26 games of the season, averaging a team-high 31 minutes per game, and once again leading the team in scoring and rebounding with 16.4 ppg and 9 rpg.

She was once again honored with a First Team All Big West selection, and was the first CSUN player since Lynda Amari in 1998-99 and 99-00 to get First Team All Conference honors in consecutive seasons.

This year, Tulikihihifo was faced with having the ball in her hands most of the time. Again she came through, averaging about 35 minutes per game and scoring 19.3 ppg and grabbing 9.6 rpg before she was sidelined with her knee injury.

For someone who didn’t start playing until high school, the dedication and hard work she puts toward her game can be seen through her stats, as they’ve increased every year since her freshman season.

“I always work hard,” she says. “I get the ball (and) I crush it. I’m a really aggressive player.”

The conditioning she puts herself through to make her better each and every year is also amazing.

“You don’t take a vacation,” Tulikihihifo said in regards to what she does during the off-season. “It’s not a time to rest.”

With all the pictures of her on flyers for the basketball team, the honors that she receives, and her impressive statistical numbers, the label of team star arises. Tulikihihifo debunks that conception, and doesn’t even consider herself to be the star or leader of the team.

“Leaderwise, I’d say I play hard,” Tulikihihifo said. “Other than that, I’m not sure I consider myself a leader. I think actions speak louder than words. I’m not a big verbal person. I just want to play.”

All that matters to her is the final result. When she looks at all her stats and the honors that she has collected during her three years on the team, she looks at them as symbols for her team. She credits her teammates for making her the player she is.

“As long as we get a W by our name (that’s all that matters),” Tulikihihifo said. “I can’t achieve it all by myself.”

Despite her injury and the early exit from the Big West Tournament, Tulikihihifo seems to always keep a good outlook and see the best in all situations. The fact that CSUN even made it to the tournament was a shock to begin with, as CSUN was expected to finish last in a poll by the Big West coaches.

“I always look at the positives,” she said. “I still have one more season. I try to look at stuff like that. I can never say (the season) was meaningless. The journey here was amazing, especially (the fact that we) have changed and grown as people outside of basketball.”

Next season, Tulikihihifo returns, along with every other player on the team. This time the Big West coaches will put them near the top of the conference in their preseason poll.