What a difference a week makes.
At about this time last week, the CSUN Matador women’s basketball team sat a half-game behind first-place UC Riverside in the Big West Conference heading into a huge showdown with the Highlanders at UCR.
A week later, after road losses to the Highlanders and the Cal State Fullerton Titans and missing its star player, Ofa Tulikihihifo, the Matadors now find themselves in third place, but only half-a-game ahead of the Titans, who dealt the Matadors its latest setback this past Saturday afternoon, using a strong second half to defeat the Matadors 86-79 at Titan Gym Saturday afternoon.
“The first four minutes (of the second half) we didn’t come out energetic,” head coach Staci Schulz said. “We lost it in the first 3-4 minutes of the second half.”
The Matadors were unable to find and answer for Titan standout Charlee Underwood, who scored 24 points on 8-15 shooting from the field and also grabbed 10 rebounds. Toni Thomas also had a big day for Fullerton. As she scored 12 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Andrea Adams scored 18 points and India McDaniel added 12 points.
Senior guard Krisztina Fuleki picked up the scoring slack against the Titans in Tulikihihifo’s absence, scoring 21 points on 6-11 shooting, including 4-7 from the three-point line. Senior forward LaJoyce King had her usual double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Junior center Katie Holloway came off the bench to score 13 points and senior guard Jamie McCaa scored 12 points.
Trailing 32-31 at the half, Fullerton came out sizzling to start the second half. The Titans forced a turnover on CSUN’s first possession of the second half and Adams converted a layup to give Fullerton its first lead since early in the first half. Thomas converted a basket inside at 19:06 to make it a four-point game and back-to-back triples by Adams and Underwood gave Fullerton its largest lead at 41-32.
“We came out flat, and they took it to us,” McCaa said of the Titans’ second half start. “That set the tone for the rest of the game.”
King finally got CSUN on the board in the second half. Fullerton kept its lead around nine. Baskets by Holloway and Fuleki cut the Titan lead to 47-42, but McDaniel answered with a three and a Bennett baseline jumper gave Fullerton a 52-42, its first double-digit lead of the game and forced another CSUN timeout.
“We just dug ourselves a hole and couldn’t come back at all,” Holloway said.
Another three by Underwood made it a 60-47 Titan lead. Fullerton kept its lead over 10 points and peaked at 15 on two occasions. CSUN didn’t go down without a fight, though, cutting the lead down to five on a Ching triple in the game’s waning moments, but by then, the game had been well-decided in the Titans favor.
“We never should’ve got there,” McCaa said. “Its nice we didn’t give up, but it never should’ve gotten there in the first place.”
Fullerton’s strong second half was made due to its three-point shooting, where after going just 1-6 in the second half, the Titans cranked it up in the second half, going 5-11 from beyond the arc and finishing 6-17 from the three-point line.
Both teams came out firing to start the game. The game was tied at eight at 15:37 until CSUN ran off eight consecutive points to take a 16-8 lead. The Titans though never let the Matadors get further, and a three-point play by Underwood at 4:47 cut the lead to 27-26, forcing a CSUN timeout.
A Ching pull-up jumper stopped the Titan surge, and King split a pair of free-throws to make it a 30-26 Matador lead. But Fullerton had the last word towards the end of the first half, as Underwood nailed a jumper with just under a minute, then Adams intercepted a pass and took it all the way for the layup just as time expired to cut the Matador lead to one at halftime.
Tulikihihifo has missed the Matadors’ last two games with an ankle injury. Both Schulz and Tulikihihifo say they are taking their time with her latest injury.
“I’m not going to rush it at this point,” Schulz said “Obviously we want to win every game, but I’m not going to rush it.”
“Its hard to say right now,” Tulikihihifo said. “We’re taking it day-by day.”
The Matadors will take a break from conference action, as they travel up to UC Davis to face an Aggies’ squad, which is a year away from officially becoming a Big West Conference member, on Saturday.