ANAHEIM, Calif. -- For the second time in its 23-year history as a Division I program, the Cal State Northridge women's basketball team is headed to the NCAA tournament.
Ashlee Guay scored 25 points, Janae Sharpe added 17 and Cal State Northridge beat Cal Poly San Luis Obispo 73-58 in the Big West title game Saturday.
"Every day is a championship day for us," Matadors coach Jason Flowers said. "The intensity never drops off, whether it's a shootaround or weights or conditioning. These young women have prepared for this moment for the past two or three years. I was interested to see how they would respond to being on the big stage. They woke up this morning in great spirits, they were really relaxed and I just stayed out of their way and they worked their tails off."
Top-seeded Northridge (18-14) won the Big West tournament title for the first time in program history. Its only other NCAA tournament appearance came in 1999 as a member of the Big Sky Conference.
Guay, the conference player of the year, also had six rebounds and six assists and was named tournament MVP. Teammates Sharpe and Camille Mahlknecht joined her on the all-tournament team.
"It's an overwhelming feeling to be a part of this history," Guay said. "To be part of this with my team, coaches and trainers, it's indescribable."
The Matadors never trailed in the contest but had to hold on tightly against the second-seeded Mustangs, the defending conference tournament champion.
Led by the hot shooting of Ariana Elegado, Cal Poly rallied to cut a 20-point deficit to six at 62-56 with 4:23 remaining, but couldn't get any closer.
Elegado scored 21 of her team-high 23 points in the second half and shot 5 of 7 from 3-point range.
Even with her effort, the Mustangs shot just 34.1 percent (21 of 62) from the floor and were held to their third-lowest point total of the season.
"Today we competed, we just didn't have our offensive game where shots were falling for us," Cal Poly coach Faith Minmaugh said. "Sometimes you have those games where nothing's really falling for you. That was something we faced today."
The Matadors used big runs to start each half to take commanding leads and provide the cushion needed to hold off the Mustangs' comeback attempt.
Northridge raced to a 17-6 lead, with five players scoring, and made it 30-10 before settling for a 32-20 halftime lead.
The Matadors came out of the break hot as well, reeling off a 13-5 run, highlighted by a one-handed 3-pointer by Guay from the right wing, that gave them a 45-25 lead with 14:11 left.
Shortly thereafter, Elegado sparked the comeback attempt by scoring 11 points during a 16-4 run that cut the deficit to six.
But Mahlknecht drained a baseline jumper to halt the Mustangs' momentum, Guay followed with a pair of layups to stretch the Matadors' lead to 12, and Cal Poly couldn't muster another comeback.
"We talked about in order to be the champion you have to beat the champion," Flowers. "I was extremely proud of our group for responding (to their run) the right way."
Joining Guay, Sharpe and Mahlknecht on the all-tournament team were Cal Poly's Elegado and Molly Schlemer and UC Irvine's Camille Buckley.