Forgive the CSUN women’s basketball team for feeling a little under the weather all week.
The flu had rapidly spread throughout the players and coaching staff as far back as last weekend. The latest to be consumed by the illness bug was 6-foot-4-inch sophomore center Crystal Hahs. Hahs did suit up for the Matadors’ matchup with the Santa Clara Broncos at the Matadome, but did not play. The Matadors’ flu epidemic forced head coach Staci Schulz to use only eight players against the Broncos Saturday afternoon.
But when all was said and done, the Matadors left the Broncos feeling sick, as they used a big second half to pull out a 79-67 win over Santa Clara, snapping their four-game losing streak.
“It’s about time we got a W,” senior guard Kristina Fuleki said.
Senior Ofa Tulikihihifo led the Matadors’ offensive attack, as she scored 26 points on 11-18 shooting from the floor and a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line. Center Jazelle Burries had 14 points, including six points inside the final two and a half minutes to preserve the win, and Fuleki had 11 points on 3-5 shooting from the three-point line.
“If we could just pull through, fight through it during practice, it should be easier during games,” Tulikihihifo said of playing while sick.
Senior LaJoyce King also had a big day for the Matadors. King scored 15 points but her presence was felt on the boards as she grabbed a career-high 21 rebounds, 16 on the defensive end, both of which set a new school record.
“I just went after anything I saw in the air,” King said.
Ashley Graham led the way for the Broncos, as she scored 25 points, 18 of them on 6-13 shooting from the three-point line. Chandice Cronk was the only other Bronco in double figures with 14 points. Santa Clara attempted 34 three-pointers and hit 14 of them, which was good enough for 41 percent from the floor.
CSUN jumped out an early 4-0 lead. Santa Clara then answered with five in a row to take the lead. The Matadors then scored six in a row to take a 10-5 lead. Santa Clara, though, outscored CSUN 11-2 through a five-minute stretch to take a 16-12 lead.
The Matadors, however, answered right back. Free throws by Blake, Tulikihihifo and Kristin O’Rourke gave CSUN an 18-16 lead. King then scored inside to make it a four-point game, but the Broncos came right back. Walker got a steal and a layup to cut into the lead, then Chandice Cronk swished a three to put Santa Clara back in front. Tulikihihifo answered for CSUN with consecutive baskets to put the Matadors ahead again, but Cronk nailed another three to tie the game at 24.
Both teams traded baskets to keep the score tied, but CSUN ended the first half with a 9-0 run to take a 37-28 lead into the halftime break.
Two Tulikihihifo free throws stretched the lead to double digits at 39-28. Graham hit a three to cut it to eight. King made a jumper at the left to get it back to 10, Graham answered with another three to get it to seven, but CSUN didn’t let them get closer, as they scored eight in a row, and Fuleki hit a short jumper to give the Matadors a 49-34 lead at 15:14.
A Graham score stopped the run, but Fuleki swished a three and a Tulikihihifo score made it an 18-point CSUN game at 13:40. Graham again splashed a three to stop the run, but consecutive scores by Tulikihihifo gave the Matadors a 62-42 lead, their biggest of the game. The Matadors were in control throughout the game, though Santa Clara made every effort to stay in the game. CSUN led 67-50 with 5:38 until the Broncos outscored the Matadors 9-2 to cut the lead to 69-59 with 3:38 left.
That was the closest Santa Clara got, however. Burries hit a jumper to stop the Bronco surge. Graham missed a three and King snagged the board. CSUN worked the ball to Burries, who was fouled by Monteith. Burries sank both free throws to make it a 73-59 CSUN lead. Anna Martin hit a three with 2:34 left, but on the Matadors’ next possession, CSUN ran down the clock. Tulikihihifo attempted a jumper near the top of the key, but instead gave the ball to Burries inside, who then hit the layup while drawing the foul on Gottschak. Burries hit the free throw to finish off a crucial three-point play that pretty much sealed the win for the Matadors.
“Overall, we still did the defensive game plan. We gave them one basket for the most part, and we crushed them on the boards,” Schulz said, referring to the Matadors’ 51-29 rebound advantage.
The record for single game rebounds was 19, which King ironically shared with Tulikihihifo. King actually grabbed 19 boards on two occasions, the first time against UC Davis on Feb. 26 and the second time came just last season, in the semifinals of the Big West Tournament against UC Santa Barbara. Tulikihihifo grabbed her 19 boards against Cal State Fullerton on March 6, 2004. King’s 16 defensive boards also set a new record, which had also been held by Tulikihihifo, who grabbed 13 against Fullerton on Dec. 28, 2004.
“That’s what you want from any player,” Schulz said. “I think everyone fed off that kind of work ethic and energy.”
The Matadors look to establish a new winning streak when they host the University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine at the Matadome tonight at 7 p.m. The Wahine come into the game with a 3-2 record on the season.