NORTHRIDGE — A sense of urgency has gripped the Cal State Northridge women's basketball team during the season's stretch run.
Three consecutive losses have something to do with that. A season that has so far fallen short of expectations has caused even more anxiety.
Five games to play--beginning with three on the road--and a precarious hold on the Big Sky Conference's sixth and final playoff spot serves as a cold slap in the face.
Some say it's about time.
"If we would have played with a sense of urgency a long time ago, we wouldn't be at this point where we have to win a game," guard ReShawnda Richardson said. "It just seems like something's been missing."
The message? Time is running short.
"All of us are sick and tired of losing," center Kristi Rose said. "We hate this."
Northridge (9-14, 5-6 in the Big Sky) plays at Northern Arizona on Saturday and follows with games next week at Montana and Montana State in what players and coaches consider a make-or-break series.
The Matadors, two games ahead of seventh-place Eastern Washington, are 4-8 on the road this season and can ill afford another loss. The six-team Big Sky tournament likely will be hosted by Idaho State, 10-0 in conference.
Northridge, Big Sky champion two years ago and conference runner-up last season, suddenly is struggling to qualify.
Few expected Northridge, predicted to finish second in the preseason media poll, to stumble. The Matadors have not won more than two games in a row, and have accomplished that feat only once.
The Matadors dropped consecutive home games to Weber State and Idaho State before losing a nonconference game at UC Riverside last weekend.
"This is a role we've kind of created for ourselves," Northridge Coach Frozena Jerro said. "We have to play to the best of our abilities now."
What's gone wrong? Players and coaches struggle for answers.
Chemistry--or lack thereof--might be one reason. Eight new players this season have struggled to unify. Of course, the midseason departure last year of point guard Edniesha Curry, Big Sky player of the year in 1999, didn't help.
Curry transferred to Oregon after repeated run-ins with coaches. That left the Matadors without a proven point guard, probably the best in the conference.
Still, Northridge advanced to the Big Sky tournament title game without Curry, losing to Montana. Optimism for this season was high.
"I knew it would take a while [for chemistry to develop], but I didn't expect it to take this long," Jerro said. "We've shown it in spurts, but we've been inconsistent. With seven or eight new players, we've had to learn to play with each other, play for each other. I think the whole thing comes down to a level of trust."
Rose, a transfer from Utah, leads Northridge in scoring, averaging 12.5 points, but has not dominated inside the way some observers predicted. Richardson said the Matadors are only beginning to develop a collective mental toughness.
"As a unit, we're not mentally tough," Richardson said. "I think that's what it boils down to. I don't think we've come out with that every game. But it's not too late. I believe in our team. And camaraderie is starting to come around."
No longer a front-runner, the Matadors are gearing up for the role of dark horse.