The Cal State Northridge women’s basketball team split its first two games of the season, dropping its first game to the University of San Diego Toreros 95-77, but coming back to defeat the Portland State Vikings 77-67.
The Matadors opened their season at the Matadome against the other school with the bullfighting mascot, but the Toreros got the last ol?, as San Diego shot 53 percent from the field, out-rebounded the Matadors 40-28 and had six players in double figures, led by Amber Sprague’s 19 points and 13 points and 10 assists from Amanda Rego.
“We got beat on the boards really bad, and that was the main thing,” head coach Staci Schulz said. “I would say that and them getting to the free-throw line hurt us.”
CSUN led throughout the first six and a half minutes of the game until two Morgan Henderson free-throws put San Diego ahead 16-15. San Diego was in front from there on, though the Matadors did their best to stay in the game. CSUN trailed 30-25 until San Diego went on a short 7-2 run to lead 37-27. Senior forward Ofa Tulikihihifo scored to break the run, but the Toreros outscored the Matadors 10-2 to end the first half up 47-31.
San Diego continued to roll in the second half, going up 54-33 on a Rego score. San Diego kept its lead above 20 throughout most of the second half, with its biggest lead at 85-58 on a Kiva Herman free throw with 6:17 remaining. CSUN, though, continued to play on, outscoring San Diego 11-3 to get the deficit below 20 points at 88-69. A Herman score got the Torero lead back to 21 while two Katie Holloway free-throws got it back below. Hannah Morgenstern hit a three and Herman scored again to push the Torero advantage to 95-71, but CSUN didn’t go away quietly, scoring the final six points of the game.
Tulikihihifo scored 19 points on 7-12 shooting. Senior forward Jazelle Burries had 14 points, senior guard Krisztina Fuleki had 11 and fellow senior guard Jamie McCaa had 10.
Despite leading the team in scoring in her first game back since sitting out the 2005-2006 season due to a stress fracture of her left tibia, Tulikihihifo says she is still rounding herself into game shape.
“Before it used to come so easily,” Tulikihihifo said of her 19 points. “Right now, I’m still trying to get used to (being in) game shape.”
Two days later, the Matadors took the floor against Portland State looking for a much different story and got just that, as they held the Vikings to 33.3 percent shooting in the game while CSUN itself shot 54 percent from the field. The end result was a 77-67 victory over its former Big Sky Conference Rival.
“We were having fun,” Blake said. “We played hard, our defense finally came as a unit and we were just having fun and that’s how we came through with the win.”
The Vikings jumped out to a 16-8 lead with 15:45 to go in the first half, but the Matadors responded with an 8-2 run to get to within two points. Brianna Thompson scored inside to break the run, but Fuleki hit a three to cut the Viking lead to one, then a jumper by Tulikihihifo and another three by Fuleki gave CSUN a 24-20 lead.
Portland State scored six in a row to grab the lead, but it was the Vikings’ last lead of the game, as the Matadors scored eight in a row to lead 32-26. Portland State scored five consecutive points to cut the lead to one, but Tulikihihifo hit a baseline jumper just inside the three-point line to give the Matadors a 34-31 edge at the half.
“The first half, we still played pretty good defense, and that was our goal, to have better team defense,” Schulz said.
The Matadors opened up the half on a 6-2 run to lead 42-33. Scores by Delaney Conway and Thompson closed the gap to five, but that was the closest Portland State got. Back-to-back threes by McCaa and Ashley Blake pushed the lead into double-digits and a Burries score inside gave CSUN a 50-37 lead.
Both teams went nearly three and a half minutes without a basket until a jumper by Thompson cut the lead to eleven. Fuleki countered with a jumper, Jenni Ritter splashed a three to cut the lead to ten, Holloway scored inside to raise it back to twelve but Ritter answered with another three to cut the lead below double digits, but CSUN answered yet again. Tulikihihifo hit a layup inside, then Fuleki hit a three and scored on a fast-break layup to give the Matadors a 61-45 edge. CSUN’s lead peaked at 65-47 on a McCaa jumper with 7:10 left. Portland State, though, did make a bit of a run toward the end of the game, cutting the lead to eight with 48 seconds left, but the Matadors eventually held on for the win.
“It’s the first time we’ve come out (strong) in the second half, and its a little spark of what we have in future games,” Fuleki said.
Fuleki was the high scorer for the Matadors with 20 points, 12 of them coming in the second half. Tulikihihifo had 13 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, giving her first triple-double since Jan. 18, 2003, when she had 22 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. McCaa also had 13 points and Holloway had 12.
Blake also made her presence felt, using her quickness to break through Portland State’s press defense. Blake had nine points and 10 assists on the evening.
“I know my speed was a plus, but I have to know when to push the ball and when to set it up for my teammates,” Blake said. “Today was the day to push the ball and I just had to be smart with it.”
CSUN will head out on the road for the first time this season, the Matadors will head out to San Jose to face the San Jose State Spartans on Friday night, then to Boulder, Colo. to face the Buffaloes on Sunday afternoon starting at 1 p.m. Mountain Time.