Last year, a young Cal State Northridge women’s basketball team surprised everyone, finishing second in the Big West. This year, nobody will be shocked if the Matadors top the conference.

At 9-5 overall and 3-0 to start league, Northridge was predicted to win the Big West in the media preseason poll with six first-place votes.

“That prediction means absolutely nothing,” last year’s Big West Head Coach of the Year Jason Flowers said. “Our stance is the same as when we were picked to finish last (last year). We have to go out and play basketball games.”

While Northridge’s record is impressive, it does not come at the expense of playing weak competition. The Matadors have taken on No. 21 Oklahoma, No. 8 Penn State and No. 14 UCLA.

“I think it’s always about getting better,” Flowers said. “We felt like with the team we had, we had to challenge them early.”

The UCLA game proved the potential of this young squad as the team beat the Bruins 77-72 on Dec. 20 at Pauley Pavilion. At the time, UCLA was ranked No. 12 in the nation.

“[Our players] believed they could win and we got it done at both ends of the floor,” Flowers said. “It was great for our kids to get that experience and getting the win.”

Leading the Matadors are four underclassmen. Two of the team’s sophomore guards, Janae Sharpe and Ashlee Guay, were predicted to make the all-conference team.

Guay leads the team with 13.8 points per game, good enough for fifth in the Big West. She also ranks third in the Big West in assists and second in steals with 3.9 and 3.0, respectively.

“Ashley’s been good for us,” Flowers said. “She’s a tough kid and she’s running the offense. She’s [also] the first line of the defense.”

Sophomore center Camille Mahlknecht anchors the team inside, leading the conference in blocked shots with 2.4 per game and ranking fourth in rebounding, pulling down 8.6 boards per game.

Finally, freshman forward Marta Masoni fills a weakness from last year’s team: threepoint shooting. The Taranto, Italy native averages 13.0 points and shoots 43.2 percent from behind the arc, which is second in the Big West. As a team, the Matadors lead the conference in three-point field goal percentage at 35.4 percent.

Despite having plenty of offensive firepower, Northridge has proved solid on the defensive end as well. The team ranks second in the Big West in scoring defense, allowing just 59.2 points per game, and leads the league in field goal percentage defense at 33.8 percent.

Up next for the Matadors will be a home game against UC Irvine Saturday.

A version of this article appeared on page 5 of January 11th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.