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Conference Trip Means Journey of No Returns : Road Often a Dead End for CCAA Teams

February 25, 1988|MIKE HISERMAN | Times Staff Writer

There Ray Horwath stood, toeing the free-throw line at the Bakersfield Civic Arena.

His team, Cal State Northridge, was precariously clinging to a two-point lead. Seventeen minutes earlier, the advantage had been 23.

And the game had been under control. And the crowd was quiet. And Horwath could hear himself think.

Not anymore.

At this particular moment, the 2,079 fans in attendance were screaming their collective lungs out. Horwath, a battle-scarred senior, would say later, "It seemed like the whole world was against us."

Welcome to life on the road in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn.

The crowds are not that big and the trips are not that long, but that has not stopped UC Riverside, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Cal State Bakersfield from being every bit as intimidating at home as Syracuse is at the Carrier Dome.

So what if the crowd is about 10 times smaller?

Riverside and San Luis Obispo are both 12-0 at home this season. Bakersfield is 13-3, which is only a little better than average in the conference. Excluding Cal State Los Angeles, which is 2-21 overall, CCAA teams win 79.6% of their home games.

Northridge, 14-10 overall, is 10-2 at home. Cal Poly Pomona is 1-13 on the road, 8-3 at home.

Try as they might, conference coaches cannot quite explain it.

John Masi, in his ninth season as Riverside coach, said familiarity breeds success.

"It's a matter of one team playing or practicing 300 times a year on a court and the other team playing once," Masi said. "Some might say that shouldn't be a factor since the courts are all 94 feet and the baskets 10-feet high, but when you're at home you have a better feel for where you are on the court."

Of course, it also helps when the crowd is not razzing your every move.

Masi, whose team plays host to Bakersfield tonight, calls Bakersfield's home floor, the Civic, "a pit."

A capacity crowd at the Civic is only 2,200, but the seats are raised and extremely close to the court.

"Talk about a hostile situation," he said. "There are six or seven people there who identify me the minute I walk out on court. I've never looked up, but I recognize their voices. They're the same people every time."

Masi said that his team has been doused with beer by Bakersfield fans in the past, but such an occurrence is rare throughout the conference.

Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Kevin Wilson, whose Chapman team plays at Northridge tonight, does not consider the home crowd much of a factor at most CCAA games.

"A couple of years ago we were fighting Northridge for the championship in a game at their place and you could have fired a shotgun and not hit anyone," Wilson said. "The crowds, most places anyway, don't make much of a difference."

Wilson attributes the home-court advantage to more subtle changes.

"At Dominguez and SLO there is a lot of air behind the basket. It gives a player a different look," he said. "Things like that make as much of a difference as anything."

Pete Cassidy of Northridge, who in his 16th season is the dean of CCAA basketball coaches, said a number of factors come into play.

"Any time you take a team out of its comfort zone it's bound to have some effect," he said, "whether its the trip, the crowd, or the different surroundings. Even if it makes a difference of only three or four points, that can be the game."

The San Luis Obispo-Bakersfield trip, which each conference team makes once a season, is considered the toughest by a majority of coaches.

The two schools tend to have the best fan support and opposing teams are forced to make a 2 1/2-hour van ride on the day of the game. Teams that make the trip also are forced to play on Friday and Saturday as opposed to the normal schedule of Thursday and Saturday.

"We lost at SLO by two," Wilson said. "And I think that was the difference. We were tired."

San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield are a combined 15-1 in conference home games. The only loss: Northridge defeated Bakersfield, 67-61, last Friday.

Horwath made the two free throws.

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