Armed with the knowledge that its most important part of the Big West Conference season is directly ahead, Cal State Northridge didn't mess around with another second-level team Saturday night.
Two days after getting a scare from Long Beach State, the Matadors played with purpose in building a 13-point halftime lead against UC Irvine on the way to a 79-60 victory in front of 1,522 at Northridge.
Ian Boylan scored a game-high 25 points for Northridge (12-9 overall, 9-3 in the Big West), which plays at surging Utah State on Thursday as it tries to hang onto second place in the conference. The Matadors have six of their last eight regular-season games on the road.
"I felt this week was big," Coach Bobby Braswell said. "Every game is very, very critical and it's not that we're playing Utah State next week that makes it critical. They're breathing down our necks."
In the first meeting Jan. 6, Irvine withered in the second half under Northridge's 1-3-1 zone trap in letting an 11-point halftime lead disappear in a 66-52 loss. The Anteaters (10-9, 4-7), led by Ross Schraeder's 14 points, still had no answer for that defense or the others thrown at them.
Northridge, which has won 10 of 12, continued to make its mark as one of the nation's best in getting steals and forcing turnovers. The Matadors pressured Irvine into 18 turnovers -- 13 in the first half -- with 14 coming on steals.
"Again we didn't handle their half-court trap well," Coach Pat Douglass said. "Did we work on it? Yeah."
Schraeder made a three-point basket to cut the deficit to 24-21, but the Anteaters went the next 5 minutes, 21 seconds without scoring as the Matadors switched to a box-and-one installed in practice Friday for the first time in Braswell's nine-season tenure.
Boylan scored seven of his 14 first-half points during that span to give Northridge a 36-21 lead.
Utah State 80, UC Santa Barbara 50 -- The Aggies shot 71.1% from the field at Santa Barbara and cruised to their sixth consecutive victory.
Spencer Nelson had 19 points and the Aggies (17-5, 8-3) completed a four-game trip in which their average margin of victory was 27.5 points.
Josh Davis led the Gauchos (8-12, 5-7) with 13 points.
Pacific 87, Long Beach State 58 -- Guillaume Yango scored a game-high 20 points at Stockton and the Tigers won their 14th consecutive game.
Pacific (18-2, 12-0) stretched its Big West winning streak to a school-record 25 games.
Onye Ibekwe and Jibril Hodges each scored 12 points for the 49ers (3-18, 1-10).
UC Riverside 59, UC Davis 50 -- In a nonconference game, Rickey Porter scored 14 points for the Highlanders (8-12), who earned their first road victory this season.
Thomas Juillerat scored 15 points for the Aggies (8-13), who lost their fourth in a row.