The last time the CSUN women’s basketball team defeated the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, Ronald Regan was president of the United States, the Soviet Union still existed, Michael Jackson won eight Grammy’s awards for his album “Thriller,” and the sitcom “The Cosby Show,” made its debut on NBC.
Well 23 years later, to say things have changed dramatically is an understatement, and the Matadors further reinforced that thought on Jan. 25, as they took control of the game in the first half and withstood several furious Gaucho rallies in the second half to defeat the Santa Barbara 66-64 for its first victory over the Gauchos since 1984.
“To put it simple, it means a whole lot,” head coach Staci Schulz said. “We’ve never had a decent game here, we’ve always (come in here and) be beaten by 20 points (or more).”
Seinor forward LaJoyce King led the Matador effort with 22 points. Fellow Seinor forward Ofa Tulikihihifo scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and senior guard Jamie McCaa scored 11 points, eight in the second half. CSUN also defeated the Gauchos in Santa Barbara for the first time since 1979, when Jimmy Carter was in the White House.
“They’re definitely a second half attack team,” Schulz said of Santa Barbara.”(But) we’ve got a group of seniors right now that never say die, and I’m ecstatic for them.”
A layup by Gaucho Jessica Wilson gave Santa Barbara a 5-4 lead, but that was the last time the Gauchos ever led in the contest, as the Matadors ran off 10 consecutive points, capped off by a three-pointer by senior guard by Krisztina Fuleki at 11:48 that gave the Matadors a 14-5 lead.
Santa Barbara cut the lead to four at 14-10, but McCaa answered for CSUN with a triple and a free-throw by junior center Katie Holloway and baskets by King and Tulikihihifo raised the lead to 22-10, the first time that CSUN led by double digits in the game.
Again, Santa Barbara made a brief run, scoring five straight points to cut the lead to 22-15, until a Tulikihihifo score stopped the run. A three by Jordan Franey cut the lead to six, but a layup by senior guard Megan Ching and a Tulikihihifo jumper got the lead back to double digits, this time at 28-18. CSUN eventually took a 30-20 lead into the halftime break.
The Matadors kept the lead at double digits during the first three minutes of the second half. The lead peaked at 13, 36-23 on a McCaa jumper, but the inevitable Santa Barbara run was still lurking, and sure enough, the Gauchos made their move. Baskets by Wilson and Whitney Warren cut the score under single digits, two Franey free throws made it a seven point game, Chisa Ononiwu scored on a layup at 16:46 as did Wilson 40 seconds later and Ononiwu capped off a 13-0 Gaucho run with a three-pointer at 15:29 that tied the game at 36 and also brought the crowd to a frenzied pitch, Santa Barbara’s run also materialized the moment the Gauchos started utilizing its full-court press defense to frustrate the Matadors.
“They know how to get back into tough games,” Tulikihihifo said of Santa Barbara. “They’re a smart team and they know how to capitalize on your mistakes.”
But just when it looked like CSUN would collapse, the Matadors instead answered right back, King nailed a jumper to put CSUN back in front, then moments later converted a big three-point play to raise the Matador lead to five at 41-36.
“We just had to calm ourselves down,” King said. “We were trying to calm each other down, look for the open man and we’ll be fine.”
The Gauchos cut the lead to one, but Holloway scored inside, then after Ononiwu missed three and Holloway grabbed the rebound, CSUN worked the ball to Ching, who took a three in front of the Matador bench that bounced high in the air and danced around the rim numerous times before finally going in.
A layup by King and another Ching basket got the Matador lead back to double-digits at 50-40. The Gauchos though refused to surrender, keeping CSUN within striking distance throughout most of the half. A Warren score with 2:40 cut the Matador lead to 57-52, but a 7-1 run, punctuated by a steal and layup by McCaa gave the Matadors a 64-53 lead with 40 seconds left.
The Gauchos, though, wouldn’t go down without a fight.
LaShay Fears nailed a three to cut the lead to eight. Santa Barbara then turned its press back on and as a result, Warren forced a turnover, only to miss an open layup, King got the rebound, was fouled by Warren and split the two free throws. Warren made up for gaffe with a triple with 17 seconds to cut the lead to six. Another Gaucho triple by Ononiwu cut the lead to 65-62, the Gauchos then fouled King, who made one of two free-throws to make it a four-point game. Jenna Green scored on a layup with two seconds left, but the Matadors inbounded the ball to McCaa, who successfully avoided Santa Barbara’s attempts to foul her, and once the final buzzer sounded, exploded along with her jubilant teammates into celebration.
“We wanted to be the aggressive team and earn some respect.” McCaa said.
CSUN shot 51 percent from the floor and converted 21 points off 17 Gaucho turnovers. The Matadors also held the Gauchos to 34 percent shooting throughout the night. Green led the Gauchos with 19 points, Franey scored 13 points and Ononiwu scored 11 points.
CSUN’s joy only lasted 48 hours however, as it was defeated by Cal Poly 78-72 two nights later at San Luis Obispo. Tulikihihifo led the Matadors with 23 points, McCaa had 18 and King had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
The Mustangs got a big game from Megan Harrison, who scored 24 points, Jessica Eggleston scored 17 points and Toni Newman grabbed 11 boards.
The Matadors will attempt to bounce back this coming Thursday when they host the Long Beach State 49ers at the Matadome this coming Thursday at 7 p.m., followed by a Saturday evening game against UC Irvine, also at the Matadome at 4 p.m.