ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Usually at the end of a tournament, the podium in the interview room will include the winning coach, sitting at a long table alongside two or three of the stars of the game. Cal State Northridge had the entire team up there.
"The reason why everybody's up here is because this group became a team throughout the year, and everybody played a part out there on the floor today." coach Jason Flowers said, flanked by Ahlee Guay, Cinnamon Lister and Janae Sharpe following a 67-60 victory over top-seeded Hawaii on Saturday.
"Coming here last year and having the success we had brought on different challenges throughout this year. And through the thick and thin of it, these young women did what they were supposed to do and they paid the price."
Guay scored 22 points and Sharpe added 20 for the second-seeded Matadors (23-9), who gained an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. Guay again was selected as the Big West Tourney's MVP after Northridge extended its winning streak to nine games.
"This is the best team in school history. Period. And that's no disrespect to anybody else," Flowers said. "We respect the tradition of our program and we embrace it, but we've had more wins in our program in the last couple of years than ever before. This group of young women have worked their tails off. They've sacrificed, they've cried, they've bled, but they are standing here as the best team to ever play at Cal State Northridge."
Megan Huff had 16 points and 14 rebounds for Hawaii (23-8). The Rainbow Wahina had won 15 consecutive games since their previous loss, 53-46 at Northridge on Jan. 10.
Hawaii got to the title game with Friday's 73-64 win over Cal State Fullerton. The only time it won the Big West tournament was in 1996 with a 68-64 win over Pacific at Las Vegas.
"This team is a fighting team," Big West coach of the year Laura Beeman said, choking back tears. "Megan's a competitor, and you saw that today," Beeman said. "She wasn't afraid to step back and take a three. She had a double-double in a championship game as a freshman who came in at mid-season. We're fortunate to have her as part member of our family -- and we're going to keep her."
Hawaii reduced an eight-point deficit to 45-42 with a 3-pointer by Ashleigh Karaitiana and a pair of free throws by Shawlina Segovia with 10:46 to play. Shawna-Lei Kuehu missed her first nine shots before making a layup that trimmed Northridge's lead to 54-48 with 5:29 remaining. But Sharpe helped put it away on a 3-pointer with 55 seconds left, making it 64-54.
Cal State Northridge: The Matadors are 23-0 when they have a lead with 5 minutes left in the game. ... Guay's 3-pointer increased her season total to 167, putting her within two of the school record held by Edniesha Curry (168). Guay is the Matadors' career leader in points, assists, steals and blocked shots. ... The Matadors have played only one game this season that has been decided by fewer than six points -- a 45-41 win over Portland on Nov. 21.
Hawaii: The school record for consecutive wins is 19, set in 1997-98 ... The last time CSUN beat Hawaii, Kuehu and Sarah Toeaina sat out because of injuries. Kuehu is the team's leader this season in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots. ... Despite the loss, the Rainbow Wahina lead the all-time series 7-3. ... Hawaii didn't attempt a free throw line until Connie Morris converted a three-point play 68 seconds into the second half. The Rainbow Wahina didn't get to the line for two until Huff was fouled by Tessa Boagni with 15:58 left in the game. ... Hawaii's roster has five players on its roster who were born in Southern California -- Segovia, Destiny King, Morgan Mason, Briana Harris and Brianna Kennedy, a transfer from nearby Loyola Marymount who had to sit out this season because of NCAA transfer rules.