For much of the first half of its NCAA Division II West Regional game Tuesday night, the Cal State Northridge women's basketball team was living out a dream.
The Lady Matadors (20-9) were leading defending national champion Cal Poly Pomona and dominating the game. That's not too common, considering that the last time Northridge beat the Broncos was 10 years and 21 games ago.
Pomona dashed the Lady Matadors' dream, however, splashing a bucket full of reality in their faces and walking away with an easy 66-46 victory in the championship game at Kellogg Gym in Pomona.
The Broncos, who are the NCAA Division II's top-ranked team, will play host to Bellarmine College on Friday night in the quarterfinals for the right to go to the Final Four in Springfield, Mass., on March 20. Bellarmine, the champion of the Great Lakes Region, upset 13th-ranked Lake Superior State, 67-54, in the championship game of that region.
Saturday, after beating UC Davis in the first round, Northridge players appeared confident that they would finally end Pomona's reign.
Guard Renee LOch said: "I think they're ours."
For the first 15 minutes of Tuesday's game, it appeared as though Pomona did indeed belong to Northridge. The Lady Matadors jumped out to a 10-4 lead after three minutes and were tied at 25 with a little more than six minutes left in the half.
But the Broncos went on an 11-4 run to finish the final period, and Northridge was done for the night.
Pomona (27-3) opened the second half by outscoring the Lady Matadors, 23-4, and led, 59-33, with 8:29 left.
After the loss, Loch stood corrected.
"I really thought we'd give them a better run for their money," she said. "If we had been able to stay close to them early in the second half, I still think they would have been ours."
Lady Matador Coach Leslie Milke had a different explanation.
"I think we got our buns kicked," she said.
Pomona guard Michelle McCoy did her share of the kicking.
The junior transfer from UCLA scored 23 points in the first half and finished with 31 to gain player of the game honors. She made 15 of her 21 field goals.
"I haven't seen anyone as on as she was tonight," Milke said. "She was hot. It was like everything she put up went in."
Broncos Coach Darlene May said she had seen a player have a better half than the one McCoy enjoyed in the first 20 minutes.
"Sure, Magic Johnson has one like that every once in a while," she said.
McCoy, a 5-6 point guard, stole the show, hitting off-balance jumpers in the lane and taking it to Northridge's front line of Regan O'Hara, Tara Flanagan and Denise Sitton.
Northridge held Pomona's All-American center Vickie Mitchell to 7 points on 2 of 6 shooting.
It was quite a change from her last performance against the Lady Matadors in the conference championship last week in San Luis Obispo. There, she was 3 of 15 from the field and finished with seven points.
"That was the worst game of my career," she said referring to her performance last week. "Since I had such a bad game, I felt they might have overlooked me a bit tonight, and I had to do something to make up for what happened last time."
Her first-half performance overshadowed the play of Sitton. The junior forward scored all 14 of her points in the first period and dominated the boards.
Sitton had 10 rebounds on the night and Northridge out-rebounded the Broncos, 39-36.
But the difference was turnovers. The Lady Matadors turned the ball over 27 times, compared to only 17 for Pomona.
"All year, we have lived and died--and tonight we died--by the turnover," Milke said. "It was the timing of the turnovers that hurt the most. We were up by five or six there for a while in the first half, and then we committed four straight turnovers."
Northridge shot 52% from the field in the first half, but shot 18.5% in the second half.
The loss was Northridge's 22nd straight to the Broncos. The last time it beat them was in January, 1976. Pomona beat the Lady Matadors four times this season.
Milke was asked if she had ever considered pulling Pomona off her schedule, the way UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard has threatened to do to Notre Dame and a few other opponents this season.
"I would if I could," she said. "If I never see Pomona again, it'll be fine with me."