April 1, 2009
NORTHRIDGE, Calif. -
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Having posted an 8-23 overall record, the Cal State Northridge women's basketball team successfully navigated one of the nation's best turnarounds during the 2008-09 season. Led by a trio of senior guards, the Matadors notched several impressive victories during the season, including a victory against UC Davs in the opening round of the Big West Tournament.
One year removed from a tumultuous 1-26 finish, Northridge came out determined to exorcise those demons and start anew in 2008-09. The Matadors picked up their first win of the season on Dec. 7, defeating San Jose State, 69-63. They would also record non-league wins over Eastern Washington and Columbia before starting Big West play.
In league action, the Matadors finished 4-12, sweeping Cal State Fullerton and picking up wins against Long Beach State and Pacific. The victory against the Tigers on Mar. 7 coincided with senior day and helped propel the Matadors into the Big West Tournament.
Once in Anaheim, CSUN was eager to prove it belonged and did so by defeating the Aggies, 64-56, in the opening round. In the victory, the Matadors controlled the pace of the game and Analee Viena-Lota and Katrina Thompson each recorded new career highs. Although the season ended the next day with a loss to Cal Poly, the Matadors accomplished a lot of their goals in 2008-09, setting the stage for bigger things in the future.
From an individual standpoint, a discussion of the Matadors' 2008-09 season has to start in the backcourt and with the play of seniors Tonicia Tademy, Whitney Ligon and Ashley Blake. All three played different roles for Northridge during the year, and helped lead the Matadors to a seven-game improvement in the win column.
Tademy shattered the school record for assists in a season by dishing out 204 for the season, nearly 70 more than the previous mark. Her average of 6.6 per game led the Big West Conference by a wide margin and she ranked among the top 10 nationally throughout the season.
In addition to her assists, Tademy registered five double-figure assist games including a career-high 12 dimes against Cal Poly on Jan. 31. She also recorded the only double-double of her career with a 10 rebound, 10 assist performance against Cal State Fullerton on Feb. 21. Tademy finished the year averaging a career-high 6.5 points and 5.1 rebounds.
For her work, Tademy earned All-Big West Honorable Mention honors and was also named to the All-Big West Tournament Team. In just two seasons, she wracked up 314 dimes, the fourth-most in school history. Finally, Tademy was a constant on the court for CSUN in 2008-09 season, setting a new school record for minutes played with 1,123, an average of 36.2 per game and 159 more than the previous record.
For Blake, the team's only four-year senior, the 2008-09 season represented arguably her best season in a Northridge uniform. Blake led the team with a career-high 57 3-pointers, which tied for the third-most in school history in a single campaign. Her 100 career 3-pointers finished as the fifth-most in school history and she averaged a career-high 8.7 points during the season.
Perhaps Blake's brightest moment came during CSUN's time in Las Vegas at The Desert Draw. A native of Sin City, Blake dropped a career-high 20 points on the hometown Rebels in front of numerous family and friends. She also hit a career-high five 3-pointers in a game at UC Irvine and dished out a career-best 64 assists during her senior season.
After arriving on campus before her junior season, Ligon quickly established herself as on of the Matadors' most consistent scoring threats. In her first year, she tied a school record with 40 points in a game at Pacific and followed that up in 2008-09 by leading the team in scoring with an average of 11.1 points.
Ligon blended the abilities of being a prolific outside shooter with the knack for getting to the free throw line to finish her two seasons with 672 points, an average of 11.6 per game. She had 84 3-pointers in her two seasons, the sixth-most in school history, and scored in double figures in 29 of her career 58 appearances.
Despite the fact that next year's rendition of Northridge women's basketball will be without the services of these three, the future looks bright for head coach Staci Schulz and staff based on the performances of several returning players, most notably Katrina Thompson, Analee Viena-Lota, Jasmine Erving, Bridgette Conejo and Neeta Sreekanth.
Thompson entered the starting line-up in Dec. 20 against Southern Mississippi and would not relinquish the role for the rest of the season. She posted the first four double-doubles of her career during a four-game stretch in league play and finished the year averaging a career-high 7.5 points and 6.1 rebounds. Thompson wound up ranking eighth in the league in rebounding and her 61 steals finished fourth.
Viena-Lota finished her sophomore year on a strong note, starting the last nine games of the year and tied a career high with 21 points in CSUN's tournament victory over UC Davis. She also posted her fourth and fifth career double-doubles during the season and finished with 30 steals and 131 rebounds, an average of 4.1 per game.
For the three freshmen, Conejo, Erving and Sreekanth, the plunge into Division I college basketball marked a dramatic transition, one they handled with skill leading to high hopes for their future with the Matadors.
Erving enjoyed a stellar rookie year, averaging 8.9 points and 5.6 rebounds to earn a spot on the All-Big West Freshman Team. She registered impressive performances against UCLA (21 points, 13 rebounds), Southern Miss (26 points, eight rebounds) and Long Beach State (25 points, 11 rebounds) during the year and quickly established herself as one of the league's emerging post players.
Conejo brought a fearless attitude to the team in her freshman season, averaging 4.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per contest. Some of her notable performances came against San Diego, when she scored a season-high 14 points, and against Cal State Bakersfield, when she pulled down a season-best 10 rebounds. She also had 11 crucial points off the bench in CSUN's win at Cal State Fullerton on Jan. 21.
After arriving in California from Arlington, Texas, Sreekanth brought a combination of imposing size coupled with a deft outside shooting touch. The 6-5 rookie had 10 points in both of Northridge's two games in the Great Alaska Shootout and the came on strong at the end of the year, scoring a season-high 16 against Cal State Fullerton on Feb. 21.
Other Matadors who contributed during the season were Bianca Davies, Crystian Trice, Brittney Blue and Charise Hall. Davies finished with averages of 2.2 points and 1.2 rebounds while seeing action in 28 games. Trice will return in 2009-10 after having appeared in 16 contests and playing a pivotal role in CSUN's tournament victory. Hall and Blue saw limited action during the season, but were important practice players and could see an expanded role next year.
Before the season started, the Matadors avowed that there was no looking back. Having registered a seven-game improvement and getting a win at the Big West Tournament proved that to be the case. Now, with a good core of the team returning and an influx of talented newcomers ready to step in, the future is all the Cal State Northridge women's basketball program is looking toward and all the possibilities the horizon presents.