women's basketball vs Southern Utah

Fujika Nimmo lines up her free throw against Southern Utah in Titan Gym on Nov. 9. (Kassandra Vazquez / Daily Titan)

Cal State Fullerton women’s basketball began the season with an exhilarating comeback as they edged out the victory against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds, 71-69.

The Titans pulled out the victory while missing two key pieces. Junior Anniken Frey, the team’s second-leading scorer and best three-point shooter last season did not suit up against Southern Utah.

The Titans were also without head coach Jeff Harada. Harada was unable to coach the team due to unspecified COVID-19 protocols and associate head coach Charel Allen assumed head-coaching duties against the Thunderbirds, according to CSUF Athletics.

Freshman Lily Wahinekapu was the star for Fullerton in the season opener as she hit the game-winning shot and was a major catalyst for the team’s late rally. Wahinekapu finished with a game-high 20 points, shot 7-13 from the field, including 3-4 from beyond the arc.

Wahinekapu scored 15 of her 20 points in the second half, coming through down the stretch when the Titans needed it most. She also distributed the ball, getting her teammates easy baskets as she led both teams with seven assists.

Most of Wahinekapu’s assists came from pick-and-rolls with Ashlee Lewis, as the two connected multiple times throughout the game. Lewis was also a key contributor for the Titans scoring 18 points and a team-leading eight rebounds.

The Titans trailed Southern Utah for most of the game before their late surge. The largest lead for Southern Utah was 14 while Fullerton only led by two at any point in the game.

At the half, Southern Utah led 36 to 27 largely due to their dominance on the boards. Southern Utah had 26 rebounds compared to Fullerton’s 15 in the first half. The Titans also struggled from three in the first half making only 14.3% of their shots behind the arc.

CSUF cleaned up both the rebounding and three-point shooting in the second half. They shot an improved 38.5% from the three-point line and outrebounded Southern Utah in the second half.

Fullerton’s performance on defense forced Southern Utah into 18 turnovers. The Titans were able to turn their defense into offense as they converted the Thunderbirds turnovers into 19 points.

The Titans did a good job of taking care of the ball as they only committed 10 turnovers and allowed nine points off of them.

After a disappointing 2020-21 season, where CSUF finished with a 4-18 record, Harada said this year’s team would be different as they brought in eight new players.

So far, this has proven to be true as the Titans already have a win under their belt thanks to key contributions from some of their new additions, freshmen Fujika Nimmo and Wahinekapu, who started and scored a combined 34 of the Titans’ 71 points.

The next game for CSUF will be an away game on Nov. 13 at 1:00 p.m. against Utah State.

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