March 13, 2009

Matadors Top Gauchos, Move One Step Closer To The Big Dance

March 13, 2009

By Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletic Director (Media Relations)

Anaheim, Calif. - One more win!!!

That's all the Cal State Northridge men's basketball team needs and they will punch a ticket to the "Big Dance" ... otherwise known as the NCAA Tournament.

But first, the Cal State Northridge men's basketball team needs to get past Pacific in Saturday's championship game (9:00 p.m.) at the Big West Conference Tournament at the Anaheim Convention Center.

The Matadors earned their way to the tournament final with a hard-fought 67-60 victory over a gritty UC Santa Barbara team. It wasn't easy but the Matadors semifinal victory pushed the team to the championship game for the second time since CSUN joined the Big West Conference in 2001-02.

Ironically, the Matadors only other appearance in the championship game of the Big West Conference Tournament was during the 2003-04 season. In the title game (3/13/04), Pacific scored a 75-73 decision.

Pacific beat Long Beach State in the other semifinal game, 65-60. Chad Troyer led the Tigers with 22 points.

On Friday night at the Anaheim Convention Center, Matador senior guard Rodrigue Mels came off the bench to score a career-high 28 points along with a career-high seven rebounds, three assists and three steals in 34 minutes of play. Mels, who has been moved from shooting guard to reserve point-guard, was needed early in the game after starting point-guard Mark Hill picked up his second foul with 18:20 left in the first half. In came Mels and the senior went to work scoring both from the outside and driving to the basket.

"I just needed to step up for my team," said Mels. "We want to win the tournament. That's why we are here."

Matador head coach Bobby Braswell was impressed with the intensity of Mels' play at both ends of the court.

"Obviously we needed somebody to step up and Rodrigue Mels was huge," said Braswell. "He is playing out of position at point-guard, but he has done everything we have asked him to do. He played well on the offensive end but he also played well on the defensive end."

Defense again proved to be another pivotal reason for CSUN's win. After allowing the Gauchos to shoot 55 percent in the first half, the Matador defense buckled down and allowed UCSB to make only 31 percent of their shots in the second half.

"I'm extremely blessed and grateful we pulled this game out tonight," said Braswell. "In the second half, I thought our effort summarized the season thus far. We found a way to win. We made plays that we needed to make at the defensive end. We changed our defense and told the team we needed to defend better. We picked it up in the second half and got the job done."

Another example of CSUN's strong second-half defense. UCSB's star player, Chris Devine, hit 4-of-4 shots in the first half. In the second half, CSUN's held Devine to 0-for-6 shooting.

Cal State Northridge jumped to a 5-0 lead, but the Gauchos scored the next five points to tie the game with 16:42 left in the first half. At that point, Cal State Northridge never lost the lead and led by as many as nine points, 23-14, with 9:19 left before halftime. But the Gauchos never caved in, and outscored the Matadors, 14-5, to knot the game at 28-28. A layup by Mels pushed CSUN in front, 30-28 at the 1:19 mark, but back again came UCSB to tie the game at 30-30 with 47 ticks on the clock. The first half ended at 30-30.

UCSB actually took the lead at 35-34 with 16:36 remaining the game, but another Mels layup put the Matadors back in front at 36-35 with 16:14. From that point on, the Matador defense kicked into high gear and the Matadors never trailed the rest of the game.

The Cal State Northridge lead gradually grew as the game progressed, and the Matadors largest lead of the game, ten points (60-50 with 2:50 remaining and again at 62-52 with 2:00) was too much for the Gauchos to overcome.

Tremaine Townsend added his 13th double-double to his two-year resume with 14 points and ten rebounds. Townsend hit 6-of-9 shots in 25 minutes of play. When asked by reporters about his thoughts about possibly helping CSUN earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament with one more victory, Townsend seemed determined to get the job done.

"We're here in the championship game," said Townsend, a First Team All-Big West selection who leads the conference in rebounding (8.3 rpg). "This is something we have been working for since day one. There is no looking back. We'll give it everything we have."

The Pacific Tigers stand in CSUN's way of a conference tournament title and CSUN's attempt at a second trip to the NCAA's.

"I'm very blessed and thankful to be back in this situation," said Braswell. "I really want this for the team more than myself. I would love for this team to have the experience of it (a trip to the NCAA Tournament)."

Series Story
Pacific holds an overwhelming 17-4 advantage in the series against Cal State Northridge ... Since January 31, 2004, the Tigers have won 13 of 15 games against the Matadors including two wins this year ... In the first meeting (1/2/09) this year, Pacific earned a 84-78 overtime victory over CSUN at The Matadome ... Pacific out rebounded CSUN, 37-30, and shot .517 (30-for-58) from the floor ... Cal State Northridge shot .460 (29-for-63) ... Then on March 7 in Stockton, Pacific scored a 62-55 decision ... Again, the Tigers out rebounded the Matadors, 41-25 ... Four times Cal State Northridge and Pacific have played on neutral turf and four times Pacific has won ... That included a 75-73 decision over the Matadors in the championship game of the Big West Tournament on March 13, 2004.

Matador Memo
Saturday's (9:00 p.m., 3/14/09) Big West Tournament championship game between Cal State Northridge and Pacific will be televised nationally on ESPN2 ... Rob Haynes' consecutive streak of at least one 3-pointer in each game has grown to 27 ... Haynes hit a three-pointer in the first half ... Haynes also inched closer to the school record for games played at Cal State Northridge ... Haynes has now played in 117 games over his four year career, only three short of the school record held by Jonathan Heard (2004-08) ... With ten rebounds against UC Santa Barbara, Tremaine Townsend now has 516 for his two-year career, only eight short of the tenth position all-time at Cal State Northridge held by Jeff Parris (524, 1997-01).