The reigning Big West Champion Northridge Matadors entered the 2009-10 season looking to build on their success from last season. Just last year, under the leadership of Head Coach Bobby Braswell, the Matadors took the Big West by storm, entering the season ranked first in the conference and winning 11 of their last 15 games to finish with a record of 17-14. Northridge went on to capture their first Big West title, and, as the conference champions, were awarded the 15th seed in the NCAA tournament. Though they were ousted in the first round by second-seeded Memphis in a surprisingly competitive contest, the Matadors undoubtedly enjoyed last season’s outcome.
“Last year was obviously very fulfilling both as a basketball team and as a program. Being picked to win from the beginning placed a lot of pressure on us … you have a target on your back, and our guys responded well to the pressure,” Braswell said.
Braswell has had a successful career at Northridge and is currently in his 14th season as head coach with an overall record of 205-181 (.513). However, if he wants to continue his winning ways this season, he has a lot of work to do. His team entered the season ranked third in the conference and began with mixed results in winning four of its first seven games.
“The preseason is a time for our team to learn how to play together and become more familiar with one another,” Braswell said.
Since then, they have gone on a seven-game losing streak, falling to 4-10 and 0-3 in the conference.
“When you lose your top five scorers from last year, guys need to learn how to not only play the game but also play the game like we want them to,” Braswell said. “Our goal is to always get better and progress. Right now we are not looking at the preseason. We have 20 plus games left in our season.”
For the Matadors, conference play began on Jan. 2 versus Pacific. Sophomore guard Vinnie McGhee led the team with 13 points and the Matador defense held Pacific to just 52 points, but CSUN did not play well on offense, falling to the Tigers 52-43. Two days later, the Matadors dropped their second conference game to UC Davis with a final score of 85-73. This has been the story for the Matadors all season. While they usually provide a strong defensive effort — they have allowed over 80 points only six times this season and lead the conference in offensive rebounds — they have not been able to put forth similar efforts on offense on a consistent basis. Overall, the Matadors have been outscored 855-954, and opponents have scored an average of over eight more points per game.
“There are areas where we have some holes,” Braswell said. “At this point, we need some of our veteran guys to step up.”
There are a couple of bright spots for the Matadors. Senior guard/forward Kenny Daniels leads the team in points and points per game with 14.5 a contest and is ninth in the conference in total points. He also has one 30-point game, a feat achieved only one other time in the Big West this season, by Eric Wise of UC Irvine. Not only is Daniels the heart of the Matador offense, he also contributes significantly to their defense and is second on the team in total rebounds with 49. The real star on defense, however, is junior forward Lenny Daniel. He leads the Matadors in defensive rebounds (56), offensive rebounds (45), and total rebounds (101); he is second in the Big West in offensive rebounds. He has also scored 140 points and averages 10.8 per game, both of which are good for second on the team. However, though the Matadors have two star caliber players, the rest of the team has failed to provide adequate support. Despite the efforts of Daniel, the Matadors rebound margin is -1.6 per game, which is last in the conference.
“Right now we have too many turnovers, and we need to get our post guys some additional touches,” Braswell said. “I think that those are the things that we need to focus on to become better.”
If Braswell wants his team to turn the corner and salvage their season, he will need to get better efforts out of the players on the team not named Daniels and Daniel. Though he is not sitting pretty as of now, the veteran head coach believes his team simply needs more time to practice together and work into a groove.
“Overall, I do not think we are where I want us to be, but it is all about getting there by improving every day and making the most of our practices,” Braswell said.