They had to know there would be games like this. It just wasn’t supposed to happen against Southern Utah.
For Cal State Northridge to get blown out by UCLA at Pauley Pavilion would have been understandable. Or against the Gauchos at Santa Barbara or the Blazers at Alabama Birmingham.
But none of those losses were as convincing as the one inflicted by Southern Utah, which showed Northridge rock-bottom Saturday night with a 90-65 win over the Matadors before 2,241 at the Centrum.
The Matadors’ fourth consecutive loss left them collectively dumbfounded. Worse yet for Northridge (7-11), next up is Missouri (13-5) in Columbia, Mo., on Wednesday. Southern Utah (9-8) is a Division I independent; Missouri is a Big Eight Conference member.
“I can’t put my finger on it, besides lack of hustle,” Northridge guard Brooklyn McLinn said.
That motion was seconded by Pete Cassidy, Northridge’s coach. “Southern Utah kicked our butts in every phase of the game--effort, intelligence, intensity and alertness,” he said.
The Thunderbirds shot well too. Southern Utah, which came in shooting a respectable 48.9%, made 32 of 46 field-goal attempts (69.6%). However, “I don’t think there was a hand up by anyone within two counties of them sometimes,” Cassidy said.
Southern Utah made six of nine three-point shots in cruising to a 45-22 halftime advantage. Northridge, which has turned cold after shooting better than 40% from three-point range in its first 14 games, was one of 11.
The game was close for only a while. Southern Utah stretched a 14-11 lead to a 20-point advantage with a 19-2 run over an eight-minute span during which Northridge made one of 12 shots and committed seven turnovers.
“It seems like the last four or five games none of us has been able to throw a pea in the ocean,” McLinn said.
Actually, the junior from Taft High was an exception. McLinn scored 17 points, the only Matador to reach double figures. But 10 came in the last four minutes.
Richard Barton, Southern Utah’s 6-foot-9 senior center, scored a game-high 23 points. Even he was hot from three-point range, making his only two attempts.
By contrast, Northridge center Peter Micelli scored eight. Micelli’s problem wasn’t that he shot poorly. It was that he rarely shot. Micelli, who had scored in double figures the previous five games, attempted only two shots in the first half.
“It felt like we all were about two steps behind,” Micelli said. “Shots didn’t fall, we got discouraged and our problems snowballed.”
Northridge committed 22 turnovers, many unforced. Southern Utah had 20, but many came on fancy passes when the game’s outcome was no longer in doubt.
“Maybe we’re gambling too much,” McLinn said. “Maybe we’re trying to pressure too much, trying to force things, and instead we’re playing blind.”
Cassidy seems intent on figuring out the problem. He called a postgame team meeting in his hotel room to pore over videotape.