Matadors Take Off For NCAA Tournament and Notre Dame
After winning four games in five days to clinch the Big West Conference Tournament Championship, while being the lower seed in three of those games, the California State University, Northridge Women’s Basketball team knows a little about big hills to climb. On March 12, the Matadors found out that their next big challenge is waiting in South Bend, Ind.
For the third time in five seasons, CSUN advanced to the NCAA Tournament. This time, waiting for them is the Spokane Region’s No. 1 seed, Notre Dame, at 2 p.m. on Friday, March 16. The matchup was revealed during a viewing party at the Pub Sports Grill in the University Student Union, where the packed house was festive and brimming with Matador pride.
“There are checkpoints in life,” Women’s Basketball Head Coach Jason Flowers said. “There are checkpoints in a basketball season. You need to celebrate accomplishments when you set goals and reach them. It’s important to our young women to soak all of this in. They’ve earned it. It’s imperative in order to keep growing and improving, once you achieve one goal, turn it over and set a new one right away so you keep working for something.”
Taking on Notre Dame (29-3) appears a daunting task, but the Matadors (19-15) have endured injuries and still persevered on the way to the “Big Dance.” It helps to have 6-foot-4-inch junior center Channon Fluker and 6-foot-2-inch senior forward Tessa Boagni dominating the middle, especially during the Big West Tournament. Fluker, the two-time Big West Women’s Basketball Player of the Year, was a force throughout the season, as she regularly registered double digits in scoring and rebounding as a tremendous inside presence for the Matadors.
“It was a lot of ups and downs for us,” Fluker said of the season. “In the end, we came together — we had a lot of energy. We believed in one another, and that helped push us through the season and the tournament.
“I’m still a little bit in a state of shock. Winning the tournament hasn’t fully sunk in for me yet. It’s a great opportunity to even play in the NCAA Tournament with my team, considering everything we went through this year. It’s going to be great.”
Boagni became a powerful complement to Fluker’s inside play during the conference tournament, averaging 19.5 points through the four games to earn tournament MVP honors. A freshman the last time the Matadors made the tournament, the New Zealand native was able to add perspective to the return to postseason play.
“I didn’t think it would be that different, but it turns out that it is,” Boagni said. “Last time, I was just along for the ride. We had five amazing seniors who were driving us. Now, being a senior and one of the leading players, it’s a different feeling. There’s a lot more pressure, but at the same time I feel that there’s a lot more reward. So it’s really exciting.”
The dominant play of the Matador pair was the driving force in the Big West tournament, as the duo combined to score 47 points in the championship game.
“It was surreal,” Boagni said. “We just clicked. We got this confidence that we didn’t know we had in each other. It was amazing to see us all come together. The vibe throughout the whole four days was absolutely amazing. It really showed on the court how well we were playing together.”
For Flowers, the growth of the Fluker-Boagni tandem reflected the evolution of the team over the course of the season.
“Part of the culture of our program is holding our young women accountable, holding them to the expectation level we have for them — and reinforcing that when those aren’t met, there are going to be consequences,” Flowers said. “Fortunately, Channon and Tessa continued to grow throughout the season in a lot of different ways, as did their teammates. The last week was the culmination of them continuing to grow, not only as individuals, but the team growing together — trusting one another more, communicating more, playing for the person next to them.”
After the viewing party, the Matadors quickly shifted their focus to the task at hand. While the temperatures will be chilly in South Bend, the action on the hardwood will be several degrees warmer.
“I’m so excited,” Boagni said. “We have nothing to lose. We have everything we need to cause an upset, so we’re just going to go there and give it our all and hopefully, we’ll come out with a win.”
For the latest Matador news during the NCAA Tournament, visit GoMatadors.com.