By Marvin Luu
Coming off their first conference victory last Saturday, the UC Irvine women’s basketball (4-17, 1-6) could not keep their win streak alive Thursday night, falling 83-64 to a CSUN squad (4-16, 2-4) that had pulled an upset over Hawai’i (11-9, 4-3) five days earlier, courtesy of a double double performance from freshman center Channon Fluker, who had put up a career high 31 points and 11 rebounds for the Matadors.
UCI had no way of stopping Fluker either, allowing the 6’4’’ Marantha native to top her own career numbers with 33 points and 13 rebounds.
“You can’t front her or back her, she’s just too big,” head coach Doug Oliver said. “But the only help you can get is from perimeter defense and we refused to do it consistently so it’s unfair for our low-post defender to be in that position time and time again.”
Despite the loss, UCI had carried over some momentum from their first conference victory over Cal State Fullerton, going on a quick 6-0 run right from the tip.
Senior guard Raelyn Cheung-Sutton dished out seven assists to add to her grand total of 133 dimes on the season while also leading the ‘Eaters with 16 points, five of which came from the free throw line. Having draining all five shots from the charity stripe, Cheung-Sutton has kept her consecutive free throw streak alive with 25.
“In general, my job as a point guard for this team is to push the ball,” Cheung-Sutton said. “We need easy baskets and what my mentality is every game is to push the ball and be aggressive.”
Along with Cheung-Sutton, junior forward Mokun Fajemisin worked the paint early and ended the night with 11 points and six rebounds. Fajemisin, who continues to lead the Big West in block shots with an average of 2.06 a night, recorded a routine rejection and held Fluker to just four points for nearly seven minutes.
“At the beginning of the game, we did a really good job of pushing the ball and getting out in transition [since] Northridge struggles to get back on transition defense,” Fajemisin said.
However, by the three-minute mark, Fluker began to assert her dominance in the paint, barreling in six straight baskets and a quick deuce to end the period with 12 to give the Matadors a three-point advantage.
Heading into the second quarter, freshman guard Andrea Ritter converted a jumper to bring the lead down to one, 24-25. It would be the closest deficit the ‘Eaters would get to since leading by six in the first. For the remainder of the quarter, the Matadors began to actively run their offense through Fluker who exhausted UCI forwards Tayla Jackson and Brittany Glassow.
“[It was a] good start [and] bad finish,” coach Oliver said. “We can’t play a second half where they shoot 65 percent and we shoot 23…they outrebound us 54 to 30…I mean that’s not doable.”
Just 1:09 remaining before the half, things began to get a little heated when Glassow was called for a technical foul after wrestling for a rebound and hitting the deck with CSUN guard Katelin King. King would go on to hit both technical free throws to draw the lead out to eight, 42-34.
A few plays later, Cheung-Sutton pushed the ball to the length of the floor and rewarded herself a basket and a foul before returning seconds later off a missed CSUN free throw to find a wide open Glassow in the paint for another easy deuce.
Trailing by six with 47 seconds to go, UCI gave up a five-point swing to the Matadors who drew the lead out to 11, 50-39 at the half.
Save a couple of jumpers from Cheung-Sutton and junior guard Irene Chavez, the rest of the game belonged to CSUN and Fluker who punched in 11 lay-ins to open the second half before scoring four more in the fourth to cap off her night.
“[Fluker] had just come off another 30 point game against Hawai’i and the game was to pressure the ball handler [or] whoever had the ball so [they] wouldn’t have an easy pass because we’re okay with them taking the on the ball but we didn’t follow it every time…and it really hurt us.”
With the loss, the ‘Eaters will take a long road trip face Hawai’i—a team that is also known for its size, physicality, and aggressive post play—tomorrow at 7:30.
“Come Saturday, we have to work on getting into better position on defense at the low post,” Fajemisin said. “I also think we need to work better at applying on ball pressure so it’s harder to make those passes into the post so that it gives [us] time to adjust on defense.”