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Northridge Defeat Has Old Familiar Feeling

February 07, 1996|JEFF FLETCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN LUIS OBISPO — The Cal State Northridge basketball team has been here before: someplace between elation and frustration.

The Matadors trailed Cal Poly San Luis Obispo by 25 points in the first half Tuesday night before pulling within three points at one juncture in the second half. But they couldn't take the last step, and lost, 66-59, in an American West Conference game.

"Nobody likes to lose," Northridge Coach Pete Cassidy said. "If we had just gone belly up and lost by 30 that would bother me a little more. But I have to recognize that our players fought hard to come back."

The Matadors, 5-16, 1-2 in conference play, have played two other games this season--at Southern Utah and at St. Mary's--in which they nearly made remarkable comebacks, but lost anyway.

"The positive feeling is we know that if we weren't down by 25, we would have won the game," Matador senior Ruben Oronoz said.

From the game's outset, it was clear that Cal Poly was much improved from last season's 1-26 team. The Mustangs (11-10, 3-0) have engineered the biggest turnaround in Division I.

Cal Poly dominated the Matadors for 15 minutes, firing up the crowd of 3,122 and starting what looked like a rout.

Northridge made only two of its first 17 shots. The Matadors were held scoreless for more than 10 minutes while Cal Poly scored 21 points to take a 29-4 lead.

Just when it looked like Northridge might be approaching the school record for fewest points in a half (13, in 1994 against Alabama Birmingham), the Matadors sprung to life.

Oronoz's jump shot with 6 minutes 22 seconds to go in the first half ended the drought, and started a hot streak. It was the first of 10 consecutive shots Northridge made. The 22-5 run pulled the Matadors within 39-31 four minutes into the second half.

Northridge continued to climb back slowly, keyed by a patient offense and solid rebounding, and pulled within 53-50 on Eric Gray's three-point basket with 4:36 to play. Gray and teammate Trenton Cross each finished with 12 points.

But the Mustangs retook a six-point lead on Colin Bryant's three-pointer at 4:18.

Gray made another three-pointer with 53 seconds remaining to pull the Matadors within 60-56 but that was as close as they could get.

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