Matadors face off with Riverside for first place

Ivan Yeo

The CSUN Matador women’s basketball team has faced all sorts of challenges this season.

The Matadors have had non-conference games against the likes of Michigan State, Brigham Young, Colorado, Pepperdine and Montana, and the Big West Conference slate has provided for just as much drama, such as the Matadors beating UC Santa Barbara for the first time in 23 years.

Well, tonight, the Matadors brace for perhaps its biggest game of the season, as they travel to UC Riverside to square off with the first-place Highlanders in a game that could go a long way towards deciding the conference’s regular-season winner.

“Everyone’s getting pumped up,” head coach Staci Schulz said.

CSUN (7-2) stands a half-game behind Riverside heading into tonight’s showdown. The Matadors handed the Highlanders its only loss in conference play last month, defeating the Highlanders 69-60 at the Matadome back on Jan. 6.

The Matadors were led by its big three of seniors LaJoyce King, Jamie McCaa and Ofa Tulikihihifo. King was a threat on both the boards and the glass, as she scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Tulikihihifo scored 13 points and McCaa added 12.

There was one “X factor” in that game. Riverside played without Amber Cox, who was nursing an injury. Since then, Cox has returned and contributed significantly for the Highlanders, scoring in double figures in Riverside’s last two games. Cox had 13 points in a loss to the California Golden Bears back on Jan. 31 and 10 in a win over Cal State Fullerton back on Feb. 3.

“She is a very good player, and she is 6-2, so that’s going to help them match up with us even more,” Schulz said.

Tulikihihifo currently leads the Matadors in scoring at 15.0 points a game. King and McCaa are tied for second, as both players are averaging 13.6 a game. Riverside is led by junior standout forward Kemie Nkele, who is averaging 16 points and seven rebounds this season. Nkele had 18 points and 10 rebounds against CSUN back on Jan. 6.

“We’re probably going to keep mixing up our defenses up a little bit,” Schulz said. “We’re hoping that zone can help a little bit, but we have to be able to get on Nkele’s jump shot.”

Those that wish to follow the game play by play can listen to the game on with Sam Farber at the call. Broadcast will begin at 6:45 p.m.