UC Irvine overpowers cold-shooting CSUN

Reggie Theus hopes his guys are upset right now. 

Theus himself, the second-year Cal State Northridge basketball coach, is upset with his guys. Thursday night, people packed the Matadome for a much-hyped televised matchup between the defending Big West regular season champions and the team that was one possession away from claiming the title at the conference tournament. 

Both teams entered Big West play with high expectations and even higher hopes and until Thursday night, both delivered. But the Matadors appeared lifeless at times and the Anteaters were able to run away with the 80-49 win. Efficiencies were exposed and the attitudes were adjusted, and Theus says that this is not a performance indicative of what this team is accomplishing.

"We’re better than that," he said. "The players, if they have a pulse, they’ve got to be in pain right now because they didn’t bring it."

But he is worried that his team and his short bench might be becoming too one-dimensional.

"When something isn’t working, you have to be able to do your job another way," he said. "The problem, over everything, is that on those nights for us, I have nobody else to put in."

Forwards Devonte Elliott and Stephen Maxwell went a combined 0-for-9. Uncharacteristic, for the Matadors’ leading scorer in Maxwell, who has averaged 17.3 points a game. Northridge only grabbed 29 rebounds and even without 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye, the Matadors allowed 44. 

This wasn’t how Theus drew it up. CSUN handily beat two of the conference’s best on the road last weekend at UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly. He thought his team had the momentum and he thought they respected their wins a little more than that. Instead, the team was playing so out of sync that he had to call a timeout to get them to push the pace. 

Tempo is this team’s signature.

"I called a timeout because the guys weren’t running," he said. "We had an opportunity to push the ball and the guys – for some reason – they were trotting."

It might not have been what the Matadors are capable of doing, but if this is how the Anteaters are capable of performing on a weekly basis, it’s scary.

One of the tallest teams in the nation used its size effectively on defense and offensively, the bigs worked the glass for 19 second chance points. They shot 42.1 percent from behind the arc and point guard Luke Nelson patiently selected perfect shots and distributed when he didn’t have them. The ‘Eaters went up on the Matadors with five quick field goals and never took the foot off the pedal. 

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However, Theus insists that they didn’t have much to play against. 

"We needed about 150 percent more effort to be in this game," he said. "I didn’t think we even brought 50 percent effort."

The Matadors have already been tested more than most teams after a tough non-conference schedule and the suspension of six players earlier in the season. They haven’t fallen short of expectations yet, Theus insists, because it’s only January. 

So what does CSUN do next? Throw this one out and start fresh Saturday against another Big West heavyweight in Long Beach State.

"The only thing that matters is the next game," Theus said.