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Matadors make it home

By Jason Kaneshiro

LAST UPDATED: 1:49 a.m. HST, Dec 8, 2010

When Violet Alama returned home following her first year of college basketball, refining her offensive skills ranked high on her summer to-do list.

And when Cal State Northridge's early-season schedule brought her back last month, she didn't waste her chance to show off the results of her offseason diligence.

"I was really excited to come home, see my family, but more importantly to play in front of them and show them how I've improved," Alama said after the Matadors' appearance in the Rainbow Wahine Classic.

Alama (Kalani '09) closed her weekend at home by scoring a career-high 32 points while grabbing 11 rebounds in a loss to Eastern Michigan on Nov. 21.

While that loss was part of a rough start for a young Matadors team, Alama is among three Hawaii players who have emerged among Cal State Northridge's top producers.

Alama, a sophomore forward, leads Cal State Northridge and ranks second in the Big West in scoring at 14.2 points per game. She's also eighth in the league in rebounding with 6.4 per game. Her outburst against Eastern Michigan is the conference's second-highest, single-game total so far this season.

Sophomore guard Janelle Nomura (Punahou '09) hit for a career-best 24 points against Chattanooga on Nov. 27 and scored 20 in a loss at UTEP last Friday.

Senior forward Analee Viena-Lota (Kamehameha '07) posted her seventh career double-double with 11 points and 16 rebounds against Oregon State during the Rainbow Wahine Classic and is averaging a steady 6.9 points and 6.1 rebounds.

The Matadors have struggled to an 0-9 mark entering today's game against Washington. But the development of underclassmen such as Alama and Nomura and the leadership of Viena-Lota could help set a foundation for the program undergoing a transition under first-year head coach Jason Flowers.

"As a senior, I've been here longer and I try to be a leader," said Viena-Lota, a team captain. "But the team we have, even though they're young, they're smart players and they work hard. I'm not worried about them."

Alama's growth has been particularly striking after averaging 4.1 points as a freshman.

"I've always been a pretty decent rebounder and I did a lot of the little things," said Alama, who closed last season with a 15-point, 17-rebound effort against Pacific. "But this year I really wanted to work to be an offensive threat and that would open up more shots for my teammates."

She worked with former University of Hawaii standouts Nani Cockett and Kyla Evers with D.One Basketball over the summer to develop greater assertiveness on the offensive end. She then opened her sophomore season by scoring 20 points against Pepperdine and has scored in double figures in six of the Matadors' nine games.

"With the new coaching staff, they're being a lot more hard on players, but in the sense that they care and they're only being hard on you to make you better," Nomura said, "and I think that's been really big for Violet."

Nomura has also increased her output to rank third on the team with 9.9 points per game and is second with 23 assists.

While the trip home last month was a treat for the Hawaii trio, they returned to California looking to build on the lessons absorbed in three losses. But the on-court struggle wasn't their only source of angst over that weekend.

With planned pregame and postgame meals for the team, "We can't really eat Zippy's or Rainbows (Drive-In)," Nomura said, "and, oh my gosh, it kills us."

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