Northridge to face Stanford in NCAA women's first round

Matadors will use last year's experience in losing in the first round to prepare for this tournament

Cal State Northridge received a break when the NCAA women's basketball tournament pairings were announced Monday.

The Matadors drew a first-round game against a Stanford team that has had a down season. The Cardinal was 24-9 and finished third in Pac-12 Conference play, which indicates down is still pretty high. Yet higher grades are expected on the Palo Alto campus.

"Obviously, we're playing one of the most storied women's teams in NCAA history," Northridge Coach Jason Flowers said. "You get to this point, everybody is good."

Northridge (23-9) is the 13th-seeded team in the Oklahoma City region. The Matadors play fourth-seeded Stanford at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Maples Center on the Stanford campus.

Northridge made a long climb after a sluggish start to the season. The Matadors qualified for the NCAA tournament by defeating Hawaii in the Big West Conference tournament final on Saturday.

Northridge won both the Big West regular season and tournament championship last season to earn the program's third NCAA tournament bid. But the Matadors lost five of their first nine conference games this season.

"We struggled a lot through this season. We kept asking, 'What is wrong?' " said guard Ashlee Guay, who was MVP of the Big West tournament for the second consecutive season.

A couple days off helped, Flowers said.

"They responded the right way," Flowers said. "You can't control what happens, but you can control how you respond to it. Practices got more intense. There was a lot more running, but they didn't stop trying to find a way, and the way was working harder."

Northridge finished second to Hawaii during the Big West regular season, and won its last nine games.

A year ago, the Matadors lost to South Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament. That experience will help, Flowers said.

"It's like the first time you go to Disneyland, you can't sleep the night before, you're anxious and jittery," Flowers said. "The second time you go, Disneyland is still great, but you approach it better."

The approach is to consider Stanford to be the same kind of formidable team it has been in the past. Before this season, the Cardinal had won or shared every Pac-12 title since 2001.

Both teams have strong backcourts.

The Cardinal is led by Lili Thompson, who averages 13.4 points per game, and Amber Orrange, who averages 13.2. Northridge will counter with Guay, who averages 16.2 points, and Janae Sharpe, who averages 12.6.

Follow Chris Foster on Twitter @cfosterlatimes

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