Preseason discussions about Big West women’s basketball all revolved around how evenly matched all nine squads in the conference are. With quality matchups across the board, teams will have to come out firing on all cylinders every night if they want to be successful in the Big West. This truth is perhaps most important to Cal State Northridge, who thus far have ridden a bumpy road.
The Matadors (0-2 Big West, 3-12 overall) are coming off a 2007-08 campaign in which they only won one game. Thus far this season, Northridge has shown much more potential to win. Their best efforts have come when playing at home, where the Matadors are 3-2 thanks to a strong three-game winning streak in the closing games of preseason play before opening up the Big West season with a pair of road losses. CSUN is 0-8 in away games this year.
“Coming off of last season we had a bit of an uphill battle, but the team is playing well,” Head Coach Staci Schulz said. “We’ve had a very tough schedule, but we went on a good streak of three wins before this last weekend.”
The key to the Matadors’ success, and conversely the cause of their struggles, is inconsistency on game night. Unlike last year, this year’s squad has the ability and skill to win, but they don’t bring their best game to the court every night. This fluctuation in intensity has been most apparent on the defensive end. It’s been mental mistakes, not talent, that have let opponents score 72.3 points per game, the worst scoring defense in the conference.
“We’re scoring enough points to win as of late, but we’re allowing too many points,” Schulz said. “We need to work on our defensive play in order to start winning more games. Instead of moving our feet, we’re trying to swat passes and shots. That’s causing us to give up too many fouls and free throw opportunities for other teams. I think it’s a mental thing.”
On the offensive end, senior guard Whitney Ligon leads the squad with 10.7 points per game. Ligon is the only Matador averaging double digits, despite shooting only 32.0 percent from the field and an abysmal 21.2 percent from three-point land. However, Ligon is still a court leader thanks to her ability to get to the free throw line and her solid work off the ball. She excels in many of the in-game intangibles, and if she can get her shot working, she’ll be a force in the Big West.
“With Whit, she has a very low three-point shooting percentage,” Schulz said. “She’s pretty streaky. She still manages to lead the team in scoring because she can get to the line. But when she’s not shooting well, she still puts in a lot of work in other areas of the court.”
CSUN runs a very perimeter based offense, but with some young talent down low developing well, Northridge may have the in and out game working well towards the end of the year. Freshman center Jasmine Erving has oft been stellar for the Matadors, and her 18 blocks are good for third-best in the Big West. Also, with a 47.1 field goal percentage, she’s the most efficient shooter on the team. However, much like the team as a whole, Erving’s performances have been off and on this year. If she can get into the game each and every night, she has the talent to be one of the top post players in the league.
“We have some young talent at the post spot that we’re trying to develop,” Schulz said. “There’s times when they have not such good games, and there’s times when they play great. Jasmine definitely takes up space down there, and she’s pretty physical, although I’d like to see her use that physicality a little more. [Her game has] been a little inconsistent. I think it’s becoming more consistent. I think she’ll be fine.”
With any one team capable of winning any contest in this year’s Big West, Northridge is fully capable of making some moves throughout the season. For the Matadors, the biggest question that thus far has yet to be answered is whether or not they can come out and play with intensity every night of the year. If they can, Schulz said she feels confident about their ability to succeed.
“We need to be consistent about showing up to play basketball,” Schulz said. “We’re talented enough, we’re fast enough, we’re skilled enough, but we don’t always put it use. I think that’s the bottom line.”