ANAHEIM, CA-March Madness is a crazy ride for the teams fortunate enough to receive an invitation to the selective party. A large part of that ride is earning your way to the free-for-all annual tournament. That might include slaying the dragon of beating the regular season conference title holder to get that chance.
Cal State Northridge women’s basketball team got their opportunity and made the most of it in the Big West Conference Tournament final when they knocked off No. 1 seed UC Davis. That’s the best thing about all the craziness that goes down in March around college basketball: you never know what’s going to happen.
The Aggies completely understand that scenario now more clearly after being taken to task by the Big West Conference No. 5 team. Up until the clock tick down to zero on the scoreboard, there is no way of knowing who will get a chance to go dancing in the NCAA Tournament.
Cal State Northridge earned those party shoes when they went out and beat Big West Conference regular season champion UC Davis 63-55 in the championship game at Honda Center.
It seemed like it would be a longshot for the Matadors to make it into the tournament final considering their lukewarm conference play during the regular season.
Cal State Northridge entered the Big West Conference Tournament with an unimpressive .500 record, recording an 8-8 league mark.
But behind the outstanding play of tournament MVP Tessa Boagni, the Matadors rolled off four straight wins to become one of the many Cinderella stories heading into NCAA Tournament. During their current win streak, Cal State Northridge took down No. 2 Cal Poly and UC Davis, on successive nights.
“One of the parents brought up today’s game as we were getting off the bus. I told her that I told the team before we came that we’re going to win the tournament. She said, ‘How do you know that?’ I said I prayed about it and I walked off, “Cal State Northridge coach Jason Flowers said. “If you were in our locker room two weeks ago, if you followed this team all year and you said this was going to be the run, I don’t know how many people would’ve signed up for that. It’s only fitting that Drake’s song (“God’s Plan”) was playing when we were cutting down the net.”
The strong play of Boagni and Channon Fluker was without doubt the difference in both matchups. In their 73-50 blowout win against Cal Poly, the Matadors saw Boagni pull a double-double as she recorded 19 points and 11 rebounds in the surprisingly easy victory. Fluker was solid, holding her own with 14 points and nine rebounds.
The dynamic duo dominated the paint against the Aggies, going for a total of 47 points and 25 rebounds to keep UC Davis at bay. Fluker went rogue against UC Davis, scoring 24 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. Boagni wasn’t any slouch, tallying 23 points and hauling in eight rebounds to help Cal State Northridge outscore UC Davis, 39-26, in the second half.
The way the two are able to play off one another is a compliment, Boagni said.
“It’s a pretty good feeling,” said Boagni. “We complement each other so well. It makes a lot easier to know that if one of us is getting doubled, the other one is going to be free. It sucks for the other team because either one of us in there is a force to be reckoned with.”
Cal State Northridge came into tournament play with just an outside shot of pulling off a couple of monumental wins that could lift them into college basketball’s national spotlight. They had to win or go home. The mandate was that simple.
After ending the regular season with a defeat to Long Beach State, Cal State Northridge got busy and rolled through three tournament opponents before taking the floor against UC Davis for the third time this season.
The Matadors looked as if they might get run out of the arena after the Aggies stormed out to a 29-19 first quarter lead. That would be the last quarter that Cal State Northridge would be outscored by UC Davis. The Matadors started taking control of the game in the third quarter when they outscored the Aggies, 21-11.
Fluker turned her play up a couple of notches in the third and fourth periods, scoring 16 points and snatching 12 rebounds to dominate the low post.
“New half,” Fluker said. “That’s what we say every time during halftime. It’s 0-0 once we get out of that locker room and get ready to step back on the floor. We just had to come together as a team and build each other up, stay together, work together.”