Cal State Fullerton women’s basketball has changed the culture and expectations of its program from being looked at as the underdog to being a team that opponents are preparing to compete against.
“We’re a completely different team, and I think we are raising a lot of attention,” said junior Jade Vega.
In nonconference play alone, the 2017-18 team has already surpassed the Titans’ 2-12 record from last season. CSUF entered conference play with a 5-8 record.
“People aren’t doubting us, it’s not like ‘Oh we’re playing Fullerton, it’s an easy win’ anymore. They actually have to play us,” Vega said.
In addition to shooting past the last team’s record, the Titans were on a three-game winning streak after a win against University of Antelope Valley on Dec. 16 — the first streak of three games or more since December 2014 through January 2015.
“I’m sure that other people still doubt us, but I like being the underdog. It’s cool to prove people wrong,” said junior Hannah Thompson.
In the final games of nonconference play, junior Daeja Smith nabbed her first Big West Player of the Week award in her college career while being the first Titan to be recognized since December 2016.
— Titan W Basketball (@WBBTitans) December 26, 2017
Smith had an outstanding performance in the Titans’ match up against University of Texas at San Antonio, where she put up 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the season.
Following the Dec. 23 game against Utah Valley University, she scored a career-high 22 points while shooting 90.9 percent from the field. Smith was able to bring down 12 rebounds for the Titans which counted as her sixth double-double in the last eight games of nonconference play. Her ability is further exemplified by being the first Titan of the season to notch more than 20 points in a game.
“She’s been great for us these past few games, I’m really happy for her,” Vega said.
Smith reached 600 points in her career as a Titan, and with 89 blocks under her belt, she doubles as second all-time in the program history for blocks.
The 6-foot-3 center wasn’t the only Titan to reach new highs in the end of non-conference play.
In the match against University of Antelope Valley, Vega earned her first double-double in nonconference play with a season-high of 10 assists and 12 points. Vega matched her season high of 16 points in the 55-46 win over San Antonio. Freshman Carolyn Gill also had a career high in rebounds (12) that same match.
Though the Titans closed out nonconference play with a final loss to the University of Texas at El Paso, they brought the 92-91 match into double overtime – the third ever in program history.
“I’m really proud of their effort,” said Titans Head Coach Jeff Harada. “Big shot after big shot and it was all different people, it wasn’t just one person … They laid it all out there on the floor and as a coach that’s all that I could ask for.”
Fullerton took a close 69-57 win for its opening conference game against University of Hawai’i, where Smith recorded her seventh double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds).
As a whole, CSUF shot 85.7 percent from the free throw line, which is the best they’ve shot from the charity stripe this season.
On Jan. 6, the Titans fell to Cal State Northridge in a close two-point match (70-68). CSUN converted 80 percent of its looks from the line while Fullerton only mustered 65 percent throughout the four quarters.
Fueled from the loss, CSUF returned to its court against rival Long Beach State. Fullerton took a 67-61 win, which marked the end of a seven game losing streak to the 49ers. The victory doubled as the first victory against Long Beach in Titan Gym since 2012.
Titans created new career highs against the 49ers. Hannah Thompson posted 21 points, which matched her career high. Smith recorded her eighth double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Triann Thompson registered her fourth straight double-digit scoring game with 11 points in the match.
CSUF then took to the road where it has been in an unlucky streak as it dropped games to UC Riverside 63-50 and CSUN 65-41.
“We’ll go back to practice and figure things out and hopefully our players will take this loss personally and figure out a way that we can all be better,” Harada said.
In the Northridge game, however, Smith moved within five rebounds of becoming the 19th player in Titans women’s basketball history to record 600 points and 500 rebounds in their career.
Continuing on the road, the Titans will head to UC Davis for their sixth game in conference on Jan. 24 before returning to Titan Gym to take on Cal Poly on Jan. 27.