Jay-Z always reverberates through Cal State Northridge coach Jason Flowers’ headphones. Flowers is such an avid fan, it was the first musical sound his son heard.
“ ‘Young Forever,’ which I thought was perfect,” Flowers said of the day three years ago.
For his first trip to the NCAA tournament with the Matadors, Flowers has switched to a tougher beat. As a No. 16 seed, CSUN (18-14) has the daunting task of facing top-seeded South Carolina (27-4) in the opening round on Sunday at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“It’s fitting for this season and where we are,” Flowers said. “Somebody asked about the beginning of the year, and it was difficult. But when you get to the end of it, you can either believe in the negativity, or you think that it’s a lie and focus on the positivity. That’s what this group decided to do.”
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CSUN started the season at 2-7, needing a five-game win streak and a Big West conference tournament championship to secure its first NCAA berth since 1999. It hasn’t faced the Gamecocks in program history but has some similarities with the growing Southeastern Conference power.
Flowers, like South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, turned a conference doormat into an NCAA tournament contender. The Matadors had won four games the season before Flowers was hired and experienced an 11-game losing streak his first season.
Staley’s Gamecocks are the No. 1 seed for the first time in program history, a reward for their first regular-season SEC title and near sweep of conference postseason awards in coach of the year (Staley), player of the year (Tiffany Mitchell) and freshman/co-6th player of the year (Alaina Coates).
“They probably had the SID of the year in the conference, too,” Flowers joked. He was named Big West coach of the year while junior guard Ashlee Guay is the conference player of the year and junior center Camille Mahlknecht is the Big West defensive player of the year.
A pair of blue-collar teams is what has blossomed from the head coaches – albeit South Carolina having the more talented roster from the top-rated conference in the country.
The Gamecocks mirror Staley’s hard-nosed defensive style and attention to detail. And like Staley as a player, her team readily absorbs any advice because the coaching staff has been there.
“Discipline. That has been the calling card ever since we got here,” said junior forward Aleighsa Welch, who averages 13.7 points on 57.2 percent shooting from the field. “The one thing they have always talked about is that a disciplined team can do anything and a disciplined person can do anything. The entire coaching staff has instilled that in us, and we believe in it now.”
Flowers knows South Carolina to be a legit power, but he’ll have his team ready for its biggest game of the season.
“I got asked earlier this week if our kids would be scared. Our kids won’t be scared,” he said.