By Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletic Director (Media Relations)
Honolulu, Hw. – If you witnessed the Cal State Northridge at Hawai'i basketball game on Saturday night, you saw both teams competing to a high degree in the Big West Conference opener.
Both squads fought from the opening tipoff to the final buzzer. The Matadors jumped to a quick 13-2 lead, but the Rainbow Warriors staged their own comeback to take a 44-33 half time lead.
Cal State Northridge refused to back down in front of a hostile pro-Hawai'i crowd of 5,917 fans at the Stan Sheriff Center. CSUN employed a pressure defense in the second half that forced Hawai'i out of its comfort zone and into numerous turnovers. Back came the feisty Matadors to tie the contest at 54-54 with 12:14 to play.
A short jumper by Stephen Maxwell gave the Matadors its first lead of the second half at 56-54 at the 11:49 mark.
The CSUN lead grew to as many as five points, 61-56, with 7:03 on the clock.
But back came the Rainbow Warriors to take a 66-65 lead with 3:16 left in the contest. Hawai'i expanded the margin to three points, 68-65, at 2:08. Cal State Northridge counter-punched with baskets by Stephan Hicks and Stephen Maxwell to tie the game at 69-69 with 1:23 remaining.
However, a Hawai'i free throw and a layup by Issac Fotu gave the home team a 72-69 lead with 42 ticks on the clock.
Back came Cal State Northridge. A Maxwell basket cut the Hawai'i lead to one point, 72-71, with 15 seconds remaining.
But Hawai'i refused to surrender. Hauns Brereton made two free throws with nine seconds left to give the Rainbow Warriors a 74-71 lead.
After CSUN called a timeout, the Matadors worked for one final shot from behind the arc, but Landon Drew (who leads the team in 3-point shooting at .455) missed the game's final shot.
Final Score – Hawai'i 74, Cal State Northridge 71.
Head coach Bobby Braswell didn't mince any words.
"It's becoming a habit to dig ourselves a hole (in the first half) in the last two (road) games," said Braswell. "But I thought our guys gave another great effort in the second half."
Hicks again led the Matadors with 25 points (one short of his career-high) while adding eight rebounds. Maxwell produced his third double-double of the year with 14 points and ten rebounds. Josh Greene ended the game with 15 points and three steals.
"Their (UH) size got to us a little bit," said Braswell. "We also didn't play smart down the stretch and we gave up too many fouls."
Cal State Northridge, which had entered the game as the nation's ninth-best free throw shooting team (.770) hit only 9-of-18 shots from the charity stripe.
"In the league opener on the road, you have to make your free throws, and we didn't do it tonight," said Braswell. "That came back to bite us as well."
On the positive side, Cal State Northridge only turned the ball over nine times, a season-low.
Cal State Northridge falls to 9-4. Hawai'i is 7-5.
The CSUN-Hawai'I rematch is set for March 7 at The Matadome.
In the meantime, the Matadors return home on January 3rd and 5th, to host UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton, respectively. Both games will start at 7:05 pm at The Matadome.
Matador Memo …
Allan Guei celebrated his 20th birthday on Saturday (Dec. 29, 2012) … Guei was born in Italy but spent his early childhood in the Ivory Coast where he learned French … Guei moved to the United States at age nine where he had to learn a second language, English ... Guei produced a season-high five assists along with a steal at Hawai'i.