GAME NOTES: The top team in the Big West Conference prepares to tip off the league schedule on Saturday night, as the Matadors of Cal State Northridge drop in on the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu.
The Matadors, one of only three teams in the league playing above .500 entering the weekend, have won two straight and three of the last four outings, all during the month of December. Eight days ago the program took out Utah, in Salt Lake City no less, in a 76-71 final in order to move to 9-3 overall on the campaign.
As for the Rainbow Warriors, who have made the move from the Western Athletic Conference to the Big West for basketball, they've played all but two of their first 11 games at the Stan Sheriff Center where they are 5-4. The team hosted the Diamond Head Classic recently, losing to both Miami and Ole Miss, but in between taking an 84-61 verdict from East Tennessee State.
Hawaii, which was picked to finish in the middle of the pack in its new conference, doesn't head back to the mainland until Jan. 9 when it clashes with UC Irvine.
The Warriors lead the all-time series with CSUN by a count of 6-1 thanks to an 86-76 win last season. The only win for the Matadors was an 89-79 decision out on the island back in 1998.
Not many teams can go into the Huntsman Center and come away with a win against Utah, especially a team like CSUN that trailed by a 48-27 margin at the break. After some halftime adjustments however, the Matadors came out and dominated at both ends of the floor as they shot a sizzling 65.5 percent from the field and held the hosts to just six made field goals on 27 attempts in the final 20 minutes of action. Landon Drew gave the visitors a huge boost off the bench as he tied for the team lead with 19 points in just 24 minutes, matching Stephen Hicks who also cleared nine rebounds. Josh Greene accounted for 13 points in the victory. A mere 33.6 percent shooter from the floor over 12 games, Greene is still second on the team in scoring with 12.8 ppg and is first with 57 assists. Hicks paces the group in both scoring (17.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.5 rpg), both of which have made CSUN the team to chase in the Big West at the moment.
Hawaii led by a point at the break against the Rebels on Christmas Day in the final games of the Diamond Head Classic, but then the Warriors fell apart at the defensive end as they allowed Ole Miss to make good on 60.0 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes of action. Vander Joaquim refused to give up easily as he finished with a huge double-double for the hosts with 29 points and 15 rebounds, both of which were game highs. Isaac Fotu and Christian Standhardinger responded with 11 and 10 points, respectively, but fellow starters Brandon Jawato and Manroop Clair finished a combined 3-of-13 from the floor. A career 12.5 ppg scorer, Joaquim currently leads the program with 15.6 ppg and is also first with 8.1 rpg, both of which are just fractions ahead of Standhardinger (15.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg). As good as Joaquim can be, the fact that he has more than three times as many turnovers (30) than assists (nine) has to be of concern for the team right now.
The Matadors are pulling down almost 40 rpg as they match up with Hawaii, but they really haven't had many opportunities to go up against players built like Joaquim and Standhardinger and that could cause them some trouble.
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