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COLLEGE BASKETBALL PREVIEW

Picking Up the Pieces of a Shattered Class

Women: Northridge enters 1996-97 season without three prized recruits, one returnee.

November 24, 1996|JEFF FLETCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — How's that saying go about the best-laid plans?

Nine returning players plus a nationally ranked recruiting class seemed to add up to a major turnaround for the Cal State Northridge women's basketball team.

But the Matadors will begin the season without three of the five recruits--possibly getting only one back later--and also without a key returnee.

"I still feel good about the progress we are making, but we are not in a position to afford losing key players," said second-year Coach Michael Abraham. "We are not deep enough in Division I players to do that."

Abraham may not be thrilled with the Matadors' chances of having a good season, but remember that his definition of a good season is not the same as what most around Northridge would accept.

The Matadors' 5-22 record last season still gave them one more victory than they had in the previous two seasons. But it was only half of the total predicted by Abraham, who came to Northridge after assisting with Oregon State and Long Beach State teams that went to nine NCAA tournaments and two Final Fours.

The recruiting skills Abraham displayed at his previous stops were still sharp last spring, when he reeled in a class ranked by one publication as the 19th-best in the nation.

It's been crumbling ever since.

* Neda Milic, a 6-foot-1 freshman forward from Serbia, came to Northridge with a lingering knee injury that will sideline her for the season.

* Suzie Gyarfas, a 6-7 center who played club basketball in Israel, never passed her Scholastic Assessment Test. Abraham is now re-recruiting her for next year.

* Ice Lincoln, a 6-3 forward from Santa Monica City College, isn't eligible to play at Northridge until finishing some junior college work. Abraham is hoping she will pass all her classes and be able to join the Matadors on Dec. 14.

What's left of the class isn't bad, though. Freshmen Jamilah Jones, a 5-7 guard from Bishop Montgomery High, and Maya Muzurovic, a 6-4 center from Serbia, will both be in the starting lineup when Northridge opens its season Tuesday night at Long Beach State.

Abraham just shrugs his shoulders when considering what might have been.

"That's the way recruiting goes," he said. "There's a big difference between a signing class and a playing class."

The Matadors will also be without Sherry Ramirez, a 6-2 center, for the season. Ramirez tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in Northridge's final exhibition game Monday night. Ramirez was a part-time starter last year, averaging 5.4 points per game.

That will leave the inside game to Muzurovic, forward Tannea Nelson, a 6-1 junior, and Sarah Bell, a 6-2 junior who started 15 games last season, averaging 4.8 points.

Scoring was a problem for Northridge last season, but not because of poor offensive execution. The Matadors got plenty of open shots--often layups--but they couldn't make them. Northridge shot just 36% from the field and averaged 56.3 points per game.

Abraham said the layup problem hasn't gone away in the offseason.

"The people we have to shoot layups are not good finishers, bottom line," Abraham said. "We work on them every day and we make them in practice, some of the time. It's just one of those things that will just turn your hair gray. Look at me. There's not much you can do when a Division I player can't make a layup, but recruit better players."

Northridge is well stocked with guards, led by Jones.

"The kid's a Pac-10 player," Abraham said, "but she still has some problems, like every freshman does."

Shooting guard Sarah Hagman, whose 6.4-points per game average is the best among returning players, is an excellent three-point shooter.

She has been playing particularly well lately, now fully recovered from knee surgery she had in 1995, Abraham said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

CS Northridge Facts and Figures

ROSTER

No.: 3

Player: La Toya Ward

Pos.: G

Ht.: 5-4

Yr.: So.

Comment: Bothered by sore shoulder.

*

No.: 4

Player: Pam Karbowski

Pos.: G

Ht.: 5-7

Yr.: Jr.

Comment: 11th on school steal list.

*

No.: 15

Player: Tannea Nelson

Pos.: F

Ht.: 6-1

Yr.: Jr.

Comment: Much improved inside player.

*

No.: 20

Player: Jamilah Jones

Pos.: G

Ht.: 5-7

Yr.: Fr.

Comment: Jewel of recruiting class.

*

No.: 21

Player: Lisa Vaillancourt

Pos.: G

Ht.: 5-8

Yr.: Jr.

Comment: 53 three-pointers in two years.

*

No.: 22

Player: Tammie Mills

Pos.: G

Ht.: 5-3

Yr.: Jr.

Comment: Team co-leader with 58 assists.

*

No.: 24

Player: Kerri Reese

Pos.: G

Ht.: 5-5

Yr.: Jr.

Comment: Impressive walk-on.

*

No.: 30

Player: Sarah Bell

Pos.: C

Ht.: 6-2

Yr.: Jr.

Comment: 40 blocked shots in two years.

*

No.: 31

Player: Iisha Coleman

Pos.: F

Ht.: 5-9

Yr.: Jr.

Comment: Walk-on from De Anza College.

*

No.: 32

Player: Sarah Hagman

Pos.: G

Ht.: 5-9

Yr.: Jr.

Comment: Had eight steals in one game.

*

No.: 34

Player: Shelley Crockham

Pos.: F

Ht.: 5-9

CS Northridge Facts and Figures

Yr.: Jr.

Comment: 30-year-old walk-on.

*

No.: 35

Player: Cathy Mahoric

Pos.: C

Ht.: 6-1

Yr.: Jr.

Comment: Shot 55% (16 of 29) last year.

*

No.: 44

Player: Maya Muzurovic

Pos.: C

Ht.: 6-4

Yr.: Fr.

Comment: Big newcomer from Serbia.

* Coach: Michael Abraham, second season at Northridge, 5-22.

* 1995-96 record: 5-22, 1-5 in American West Conference (tie for fourth).

* Tournament: Northridge has never been to a postseason Division I tournament.

* Returning starters (3): Mills, Bell, Karbowski.

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