At least one Cal State Northridge basketball player won't feel totally out in the cold playing at the West Regional in Billings, Mont., Friday. Matador center Tom Ruetten will have his own personal cheering section.
Ruetten's parents grew up in Havre, Mont., and still have quite a few friends living around Billings.
"My uncle and cousin will be there for sure and my mother has been writing to friends in the area who will probably be there too," Ruetten said.
Those family friends who do show up will probably make a few comparisons between Tom and his father, Richard, who was a 6-1 center for Northern Montana University.
Tom also plays center, but he's 6-7.
Add Ruetten: On the Ventura Freeway en route to Cal State Los Angeles for CSUN's league-clinching game last Thursday, Ruetten said he spotted a Montana license plate that might have been an omen.
"In Montana the first number on a license plate tells what city or county the car is from," Ruetten said. "Since I have family there, I tend to notice Montana plates and I saw one that started with a 3, which means the car was from Billings. At the time, I didn't know that if we beat L.A. that's where we'd be playing. When Coach (Pete) Cassidy told us, though, it hit me. Quite a coincidence, huh?"
Strike up the tune from "The Twilight Zone."
Of Cal State Northridge's 28 men's basketball games, 12 have gone into overtime and/or were decided by two points or less. The Matadors won eight of the games, including five of six one-point decisions.
The experience of playing in so many close games can't do anything but help the Matadors during the playoffs, according to coach Pete Cassidy. The percentages worry him, though.
"You can look at it two ways," Cassidy said. "It's good that we've been down the road before and won the close games. I just hope the numbers don't catch up with us, though. You don't win that many close games without a little luck. Hopefully, that luck hasn't run out yet."
Brian Salone and Kenny Cook, two key players off Pierce College's Metro Conference championship basketball team last year, will return to Southern California today wearing the red-and-white jerseys of Fresno State.
The Bulldogs (20-7) finished second during the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn.'s regular season and they are seeded No. 2 in the PCAA tournament that starts today at the Forum.
Salone, a 6-6 junior forward from Van Nuys High, is the first player off the bench for Fresno Coach Boyd Grant. Playing an average of 21 minutes per game, he is fourth on the team in scoring at 6.1 points a game and has shot 56% from the field.
Cook, a 6-5 junior forward from Canoga Park High, was an early-season starter, but has seen limited playing time lately. He averages 3.2 points a game in 17 minutes.
Fresno plays UC Santa Barbara at 9 p.m. today in the first round. The finals are Saturday at 2 p.m.
Fresno has finished second behind Nevada Las Vegas in regular-season play in each of the last two seasons. The Bulldogs beat UNLV, 51-49, in last season's tournament final to earn the PCAA's only automatic bid to the NCAA championship tournament.
Moorpark College battled near-blizzard conditions on the way to the Western State Conference Basketball Tournament's championship game at Taft College last Friday.
Then, after the Raiders upset Taft, 90-79, to win the conference title, the team had to come back by way of Santa Maria because U.S. 5 near the Grapevine was closed by snow. They finally got home at 3:30 in the morning.
Between bus rides, though, Moorpark won its biggest game of the year, convincingly beating the state's No. 3-ranked community college team.
"We played aggressively the whole game and really did everything we wanted to do," said Moorpark Coach Al Nordquist. "We'd lost to them twice before, but we saw how we could beat them and then we executed our plan almost perfectly."
The win was Moorpark's seventh straight and 12th in 14 games. It made the Raiders the WSC's No. 1-seeded team in the state tournament, thus earning them the right to play host to Riverside in the first round Saturday night.
Against Taft, Moorpark was led by Oral Roberts University transfers Kip Brown and Woody Jones.
Jones and Brown combined for 68 points and 21 rebounds against the Cougars. In the three-game conference tournament, Brown scored 94 points and grabbed 34 rebounds.
Jones hit 17 of 20 free-throw attempts and scored 35 points against Taft. His season total of 624 points puts him sixth on Moorpark's career points list. He is only 51 points behind John Gissendanner's record of 675 points set in two years (1975-77).