By Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletics Director, Strategic Communications
Irvine, Calif. – The first person you notice in UC Irvine warmup drills is Mamadou Ndiaye, the tallest player in collegiate basketball this season. Ndiaye, a freshman from Dakar, Senegal, is 7-feet-6.
Ndiaye has the height and the physical stature of a future NBA star. Tipping the scales at 290 pounds, Ndiaye dwarfs over his opponents.
Guarding the talented freshman fell primarily to CSUN's Stephen Maxwell and Tre Hale-Edmerson, who are both 6-foot-7. Despite the size mismatch, Maxwell, Hale-Edmerson and his front line teammates refused to buckle under to the imposing figure of Ndiaye, who leads the conference in blocks and is shooting nearly 78 percent from the floor.
Maxwell ended the evening with 21 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, while Hale-Edmerson worked his way underneath with eight points and seven rebounds.
Ndiaye scored ten points (5-for-5 from the floor), grabbed ten rebounds and blocked seven shots to lead UC Irvine to a 72-66 victory over Cal State Northridge in a Big West Conference game on Thursday night at the Bren Center.
Matador head coach Reggie Theus preaches attacking the basket. Despite Nidaye's imposing presence, the Matadors looked aggressive on the offensive end. But a 35 percent shooting effort proved to be the achilles heal, according to Theus.
"We had our chances, but when you shoot 35 percent from the floor and lose by six points, …" said Theus, who surveyed the box score. "We are so close to being really good. It is not about this game. I told the team, this is a marathon. It is about putting yourself into position for the conference tournament. The effort and the type of game we played tonight will pay dividends down the stretch."
The Matadors jumped to a quick 5-0 lead thanks to a three-pointer by Landon Drew and a layup basket by Maxwell in the first minute of the contest. But a 27-4 run by the pre-season conference favorite Anteaters, gave the home team a 16-point lead (27-9) with 9:31 remaining in the first half.
Cal State Northridge refused to fold. Their efforts at attacking the basket cut the UCI lead to only seven points at halftime, 36-29.
Cal State Northridge pushed and pushed the pace again in the second half. Their aggressive effort cut the Anteater lead to only three points, 63-60, with 1:54 to play. Aaron Parks and Maxwell led the effort. Parks scored nine of his 14 points in the second half while Maxwell scored 12 second-half points.
"Aaron Parks is physical and knows to get to the free throw line," said Theus. "Aaron was 7-for-9 from the free throw line and that was big for us. Fourteen points in 17 minutes is very solid."
UC Irvine, however, looked strong at the free throw line, hitting 7-of-8 free throws in the final 43 seconds to claim a 4-0 conference record and a 13-7 overall record. Cal State Northridge fell to 2-3 in league competition and 10-10 overall.
"We missed some shots around the basket," said Theus. "That was our Achilles heal."
Cal State Northridge continued to excel from the free throw line. The Matadors, ranked second in the nation, hit 20-of-24 free throw attempts for .833. In ten games this year, CSUN has shot 80 percent from the free throw line.
Cal State Northridge will face UC Irvine later this season. That game is on Feb. 22 at the Matadome.
CSUN travels to Long Beach State on Saturday at 4:00 pm.
Matador Memo …
Josh Greene continues to move up the career points ladder at CSUN … With eight points at UC Irvine, Greene now has 1,294 career points to move into fifth place all-time, just ahead of Jim Malkin (1,292 career points, 1959-62) … Stephan Hicks now has moved into a tenth place tie in career points all-time at CSUN … Hicks' ten points against the Anteaters give him 1,173 career points to move into a tie with Markus Carr (1,173 career points, 1998-02) in tenth place … Greene's 2-for-2 free throw effort gives him 90-of-100 for .900, currently a single season school record … Stephen Maxwell's career-high 15 rebounds gives him 574 in his three-year Matador record to move ahead of Mark Cooley (568 career rebounds, 1964-67) into eighth place all-time at Cal State Northridge.