Julie Middleton began the season as a starting guard for the Cal State Northridge women's basketball team. She didn't stay there very long, but that's OK with her. It wasn't all it was cracked up to be anyway.
"I'd really rather come off the bench," said the junior, who sat out last season to concentrate on sprinting for the school's track team. "At the start of the game, everything is so slow. I like to get in there when everything is moving."
Middleton did just that Saturday night at the CSUN gymnasium in the Lady Matadors' 59-54 victory over Chapman College in the opening game of California Collegeiate Athletic Assn. play.
With 4:01 left in the game, Chapman had recovered from a four-point deficit to tie the game, 45-45, for the first time since early in the second half.
Middleton, who was virtually invisible on the court through most of the game, slapped the ball off Chapman center Leone Patterson's knee to give the ball back to the Lady Matadors.
Forward Denise Sitton then scored from the inside, and Middleton added a pair of long-range jumpers to help Northridge pull away.
"That was the turning point in the game for us," Lady Matador Coach Leslie Milke said. "This was a big win for us, but I think it was an important game for Julie, too. As a shooter, she's the best we've got. She hasn't had a lot of confidence in herself, though. I don't know why, because we've always had a lot of confidence in her."
Middleton, who is averaging seven points per game, finished with six points.
The Lady Matadors, who were ranked 10th in this week's NCAA Division II poll, improved to 11-2. Chapman fell to 10-5 overall and 1-1 in CCAA play.
Before the game, Milke said that the key to the game was to stop Patterson, Chapman's senior All-American.
"If you can stop Patterson, you can stop Chapman," she said.
Northridge didn't exactly stop her, but it did contain her.
Patterson, the CCAA's most prolific career scorer with 1,349 points, led the Lady Panthers with 16 points, but scored only four in the first half as the Lady Matadors jumped out to a 10-4 lead and held on for a 21-20 advantage at intermission.
"She's going to score her points," Milke said. "Just as long as she doesn't go hog-wild, it's all right with me. She has the ability to score 20 or 30 points every night, and we didn't want that."
In the first half, however, it was Northridge's Tara Flanagan who looked like the All-American. The senior center scored 12 of her 16 points during the first 20 minutes and was almost automatic from inside the key. She also had eight rebounds in the game.
Sitton scored 12 points and guard Renee Loch added 10, for the Lady Matadors, who remained unbeaten at home (6-0) and broke a seven-game losing streak to Chapman, which dated back to January 23, 1982.
"We've always had tough games against Chapman," Milke said. "It just always seemed like we were the ones that finished a couple of points behind at the end. I'm so happy we won this one. It's almost scary the way we're coming along. We're not where we want to eventually be, but we're exactly where we wanted to be at this point in the season."
Chapman Coach Brian Berger wasn't quite shaking with fright, but he was impressed with the Lady Matadors' showing.
"They deserved to win tonight," he said. "They certainly played like the 10th-ranked team in the nation against us."
Point guard Mary Gainey scored 15 points for the Lady Panthers, and forward Tami Brewster added nine points and 13 rebounds.
Northridge will travel to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo on Thursday, before returning home Saturday to face Cal Poly Pomona, the defending Division II national champion.
CHAPMAN--Hartsfield 4; Brewster 9; Patterson 16; Gainey 15; George 2; Akahoshi 2; Williams 4; Jones 2.
CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE--O'Hara 7; Sitton 12; Flanagan 16; Nino 6; Loch 10; Enright 2; Middleton 6.