By Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletic Director (Media Relations)
Northridge, Calif. – If college basketball teams played a 20-minute game, Cal State Northridge would be on the top of the world.
But that rule will never change. Basketball is a tough, 40-minute grind that requires focus, execution, and just plain hard work.
In the past three games including Saturday night's game against Pacific, CSUN has played highly competitive, tough, in-your-face basketball for 20 minutes. It has been the OTHER 20 minutes that has doomed the Matadors to defeat.
On Saturday night against a veteran Pacific Tigers team, it happened again. Cal State Northridge fell flat in the first half, and Pacific used its physical strength and veteran savvy to attack the basket from the opening tipoff.
UOP scored the game's first six points. The Tigers led the entire first half including what seemed to be an insurmountable 18-point lead, 44-26, at the 1:19 mark.
UOP would eventually lead at halftime, 45-30. The Tigers shot 62 percent from the floor (16-for-26) including 56 percent (5-for-9) from three-point territory.
"We came out in a Cadillac mode," said Matador head coach Bobby Braswell. "They just attacked us and put us on our heels. Fourteen turnovers … That was huge. We had eight turnovers in the first six minutes of the game. That led to easy baskets for Pacific. Nineteen points of their points came off our turnovers in the first half."
Needless to say, Braswell challenged the team with some straight talk at halftime.
"I challenged them," Braswell simply said.
The tough talk worked.
Pacific was held to only 36 percent shooting in the second half, and the Matadors were able to get within five points, 58-53, with 9:23 remaining in the game.
The energy level reached sky-high. CSUN was making a major push.
"We played with great energy and effort in the second half," said Braswell. "This was the type of play we were playing earlier in the season."
CSUN outscored the Tigers, 32-29, in the second half but Pacific was able to withstand CSUN's second half surge and walked off the court with a 74-62 victory over the Matadors.
It was UOP's fifth straight victory on CSUN's home court, the Matadome.
Stephen Maxwell scored a career-high 23 points and added 12 rebounds for Cal State Northridge. Three other Matador players scored in double figures. Josh Greene collected 12 points while Stephan Hicks added eleven points. Allan Guei chipped in with ten points.
At one point in the season, Cal State Northridge was ranked in the nation's Top 10 in free throw percentage. But the long grind of a collegiate season may be starting to affect the nation's youngest team, according to Braswell. CSUN missed 15 free throws (22-for-37) against Pacific, a statistic that would have made the game much closer if CSUN had made its free throws.
In the last seven games, CSUN has been able to hit only .654 (108-for-165) from the charity stripe.
"Our young guys are going through a stretch that has been very difficult," said Braswell. "The freshmen are struggling a bit. Their numbers are going down. It's the rigors of a long season. We warned them this would happen. But I'm hoping they get their second legs and get going again."
Cal State Northridge now hits the road for four games starting with next Thursday's game at UC Santa Barbara (1/24/13, 7:00 pm).
"We need to play hard and compete better," said Braswell. "I'm very proud that we competed hard and played hard in the second half tonight. If we can put 40 minutes together, we will be OK."
Matador Memo …
Stephen Maxwell was a perfect 6-for-6 from the field en route to his career-high 23 points … Three Matador players played 33 or more minutes against Pacific … Maxwell tallied a career-high 37 minutes while Josh Greene had 34 minutes and Stephan Hicks had 33 minutes … Ross Rivera came off the bench for Pacific to score a team-high 16 points along with five rebounds in 18 minutes for the Tigers, who raised their season record to 10-8 overall and 4-2 in conference play … CSUN fell to 9-10 overall and 0-7 in the conference.