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KEEPING TABS / DANA HADDAD

Bakersfield Won Over Native Son

March 31, 1994|DANA HADDAD

Reggie Phillips had the chance to jump to Division I college basketball two years ago. He received offers but turned them down.

Recruiters wooing the guard from Ventura College didn't represent winning programs--a big drawback, according to Phillips, who played on a Pirate team that completed its season 33-5.

"At first I wanted to go to a Division I school," he said. "After (junior college), I realized I wanted to go to a place where I could win a lot of games."

So Phillips turned down San Jose State, Eastern Washington, St. Francis and Morgan State and decided to return home: Bakersfield. For the sake of winning, it was the right decision.

With Phillips scoring 15 points Saturday, Cal State Bakersfield won its second consecutive NCAA championship, beating Southern Indiana, 92-86, before 2,007 at Blake Arena in Springfield, Mass.

Never mind it was a Division II title. "The level of competition was good," Phillips said. "It was special. There was emotion. But not getting the recognition that you do in the Division I tournament, that didn't faze us. We went out and played our game.

"It was an experience I'll never forget."

That experience is perhaps more precious than the 1992-93 season when Bakersfield won the national title with a 30-0 record. This season, Bakersfield finished 27-6, stumbled at times but persevered in the end.

"Every team was motivated to play us every game this year," Phillips said. "It was hard. We had to fight through adversity. During the losses, we had to learn we weren't playing at the level we expected to be."

There were a couple of low-water marks for the Roadrunners, a team that included 11 members of the 1993 champions. Early in California Collegiate Athletic Assn. play, Cal State San Bernardino upset the defending champions, and Phillips scored a season-low seven points.

"We talked about regrouping and getting refocused after that one," Phillips said. "We had to start playing hard and concentrate on getting the league championship."

Two losses to UC Riverside doused those hopes. But five days after losing, 73-68, to the Highlanders, Bakersfield beat Riverside, 75-62, in the Western Regional final and advanced to the final eight in Springfield.

"We had the worst record there and all the other teams had won their conference," Phillips said. "But we had the experience from last year, and the defense."

The Roadrunner defense ranked No. 2 in the nation in points allowed (63.3) and No. 3 in field-goal percentage (38.1%). Phillips, who averaged a team-best 15.2 points a game, scored 22 in the semifinal, an 87-69 victory over Washburn. The 5-foot-10 Phillips had 12 rebounds in the semifinal and final combined.

Phillips isn't surprised at Bakersfield's success. The Roadrunners had reached at least the semifinals of the national tournament the two seasons before his arrival. Still, two national championships exceeded his dreams.

"That's something you don't even dream of, really," he said. "It's so far out of reach, you don't imagine it."

*

Checking the fax: North Carolina freshman Marion Jones (Thousand Oaks) has helped the Tar Heels reach the Final Four. The point guard had 12 points, six rebounds and three assists against Connecticut in the East Regional final, a season-high 10 assists and nine rebounds against Vanderbilt in the semifinal and 18 points, seven rebounds and three steals against Georgia Southern in the first round.

Quincy University's Reggie Bell (College of the Canyons) was selected to the All-Great Lakes Region second team after averaging 18.8 points and 11 rebounds for the Division II school. In two seasons, the senior had 1,016 points, 568 rebounds and a school-record 63% shooting percentage.

In baseball, the San Francisco Dons, led by former Cal Lutheran Coach Rich Hill, on Tuesday upset No. 12 Stanford, 18-5, on 21 hits. Outfielder Daryl Hernandez (Simi Valley/Moorpark College) singled in two runs.

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