HONOLULU — As Jeff Parris goes, so goes the Cal State Northridge men's basketball team. When Parris sits, the team tends to sputter.
Over-simplification, perhaps, especially in the system of Coach Bobby Braswell, who routinely shuffles starters and spreads minutes among players.
Yet, it already is apparent that Northridge (6-3), which enters the Nike Festival today at Hawaii against Alabama-Birmingham, can ill afford to be without Parris, a 6-foot-5 senior forward with a penchant for physical play.
And for getting into foul trouble.
Parris presents a problem for Northridge, with officials this season adhering to a mandate to call more fouls, especially beneath the basket, in an effort to reduce overly aggressive play.
Parris led the nation last season with 13 disqualifications, and he has fouled out of two games this season while collecting at least four fouls in every contest.
"That's just the way I play," Parris said with a shrug.
Often, it pays off.
Parris scored a career-high 27 points and had five rebounds in the Matadors' 78-74 upset over UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. He equaled that scoring output in an 84-70 victory at James Madison on Monday, the first of four consecutive road games for Northridge.
The Matadors play tournament games against Hawaii on Friday and Georgia State on Saturday.
Parris undoubtedly would be averaging more than 16.9 points if he played more minutes. But foul trouble has kept Parris on the bench during close contests. He has played as few as 15 minutes in some games and is averaging 22 minutes.
In the Matadors' first game after beating UCLA, a 70-69 loss at Nevada Las Vegas, Parris played only 15 minutes and scored seven points.
Against USC, Parris played 16 minutes and scored nine points, and Northridge lost, 99-90.
Parris spent most of the second half against USC on the bench after collecting his third and fourth fouls in the first two minutes of the second half.
Braswell, frustrated with having to sit his most physical player, has become concerned.
"I told Jeff he's got to get out of this," Braswell said. "He's got to learn to adjust just like everybody else and he hasn't done that yet."
Parris isn't the only one affected by the tighter officiating. Coaches across the nation, including Braswell, have voiced displeasure with the way games are being called.
"It's not just because of Jeff," Braswell said. "It's taken away from the game. It's taken good players off the court."
Northridge players have noticed a difference, but whether the trend continues is debatable.
"I think once we start [Big Sky] conference play, it will be more like last year," guard Carl Holmes said. "Maybe the first couple of games they'll be calling [more fouls], but when we go to Northern Arizona and places like that, those officials aren't going to be calling those fouls."
For now, the whistles continue to sound and Parris continues to struggle. USC Coach Henry Bibby said the Trojans' strategy was to get Parris into foul trouble, a strategy other opponents are sure to employ.
"I just can't get it across to Jeff not to foul," Braswell said after a 74-71 victory over Wyoming on Dec. 7, in which Parris had four fouls and played 17 minutes. "At first, I was [understanding]. Now, I'm starting to get mad at him.
"The thing with Jeff, he's so competitive that if he goes on the offensive end and misses a shot he feels he should have made, he comes back on the other end and wants to make a great steal or a great block. He wants to make great plays at both ends, and you can't fault him for that. His heart is right, he just needs to get his emotions in check."
Parris acknowledges he needs to adjust. Doing it is another story.
"They're trying this year to clean up the dirty plays," Parris said. "If they're calling them tight, I'm going to have to adjust. Obviously, I'm not doing a good job with that."
Conversely, Parris' free-throw shooting could become an equally telling statistic for Northridge. Parris understandably leads Northridge in free-throw attempts, but he has been hot and cold from the line.
Against UCLA, Parris was 10 of 10 from the free-throw line, a significant stride considering his career mark of 57% from the line. He also was 10 of 10 in a 69-66 loss to Marquette.
Parris shrugged off the sudden success.
"Maybe I dropped a penny in a well," he said.
Yet, Parris has struggled with free throws, going three of six against USC and two of seven against Wyoming.
For the season, Parris is shooting 68.0% (51 of 75) from the foul line.
"We've got to learn to be able to play without him," said center Brian Heinle, who averages a team-high 18.1 points. "But we need Jeff on the floor. He's such a big part of this team."
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BY THE NUMBERS
A look at Jeff Parris' game-by-game scoring this season:
Date Opponent Pts 11/19 Howard 19 11/21 UCLA 27 11/25 UNLV 7 11/28 Cal Poly Pomona 11 12/1 Kent State 26 12/2 Marquette 16 12/5 USC 9 12/7 Wyoming 10 12/18 James Madison 27
A look at how Cal State Northridge has fared this season:
Date Opponent Result 11/19 Howard 90-73, W 11/21 UCLA 78-74, W 11/25 UNLV 70-69, L 11/28 Cal Poly Pomona 75-50, W 12/1 Kent State 89-85, W 12/2 Marquette 69-66, L 12/5 USC 99-90, L 12/7 Wyoming 74-71, W 12/18 James Madison 84-70, W