Big West Conference preview: Cal State Northridge

In Coach Jason Flowers’ second year last season, it was safe to say the Cal State Northridge Matadors were back.

After living in the basement of the Big West Conference for more than a decade, CSUN found themselves in the top spot for most of the regular season, via several mini-winning streaks.

But towards the end, one nagging factor caught up with them and made for an abrupt end to a glimmering year: inconsistency. The Matadors were stopped in the first round of the Conference tournament by Long Beach State, and then they lost in the first round of the WNIT.

Lack of consistency was something Flowers had noted earlier in the year, and the season proved rich with lessons for the entire team.

“Going through that experience (at the end), we learned a lot,” Flowers said. “The kids learned what the level of intensity is that you need to sustain a championship team, and that it’s all about consistency – every game, every possession.”

Flowers said that in their BWC game against LBSU, which they lost by five points, one pass could have won the game for them.

“They now understand that one pass can cost you the game; they now understand that sense of urgency that is needed,” Flowers said.

CSUN is in position to retain that lesson, as they lost one starter last year in center Jasmine Erving (14.9 ppg). Flowers acknowledged that replacing their leading scorer means others will have to step up. But if the strength of the returning starters and the newcomers in last week’s exhibition is any indication, they are ready for the challenge.

In the victory against Master’s College, Matador junior guard Haley White and senior forward Jianni Jackson, both bench players last year, each had 13 points. Sophomore center Camille Mahlknecht netted a double-double, with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Two freshmen – guard/forward Marta Masoni and forward Jasmine Johnson – had 11 and 12 points, respectively. For Masoni, from Italy, that included three three-point shots. Sophomore Ashlee Guay, who was on the BWC all-freshman team last season, had six points and four assists.

Speaking before the exhibition match up, Flowers said all returnees did a great job of working out over the summer. That, and a strong core, has meant that they are starting off the season in a better place than they ever have, he said.

“This year we have brand new systems, and a few of the returning players will have different roles,” Flowers said. “They’re ready for that.”

Also back this year is last year’s BWC freshman of the year, guard Janae Sharpe (11.4 ppg) and senior forward Violet Alama (7.2 ppg). Alama was the conference co-sixth woman of the year last season. They form the starting five, along with Guay and Mahlknect.

Other freshmen include guards Breeyon Alexander, Johnece Miller, and center Bernadette Fong.

Flowers, who won Big West Coach of the Year last season, has shown a talent for recruiting. He sees Masoni as an early possible threat, and he predicts Mahlknecht will be key.

As a team the Matadors have set goals, which Flowers and his staff hammer home in practice every day.

“We have a good feel for what we need to do to move forward,” he said.

In preseason polls, CSUN is picked first in the BWC.

The Matadors kick off the season Friday against Portland at home, in the newly-refurbished Matadome. They host a tournament Thanksgiving weekend that will feature #9 Penn State, South Alabama and Detroit. Other notable preconference opponents include Fresno State, UCLA and Oklahoma.