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Team Turmoil Plays for Title Again

Women's basketball: For Matadors, who play Montana today, controversy is a constant.

March 11, 2000|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MISSOULA, Mont. — Call them the never-a-dull-moment Matadors. The Cal State Northridge women's basketball team and controversy are no strangers.

Adventures off the court and on have punctuated the past two seasons.

But so has success.

Northridge (18-9) will play Montana (21-7) today for the Big Sky Conference tournament championship at Adams Center. The Matadors can claim a second consecutive Big Sky title and a berth in the NCAA tournament.

Not to mention a particularly rewarding sense of accomplishment.

Few figured Northridge to advance to the conference title game after the midseason departure of point guard Edniesha Curry, the Big Sky most valuable player last season.

Then again, even fewer expected the Matadors to rebound so quickly last season after Coach Michael Abraham was arrested on federal cocaine trafficking charges.

Skeptics included Neda Milic, a senior forward for Northridge and native of Belgrade, Serbia.

There were times, Milic admits, she entertained the thought of returning to her homeland. Loneliness was reason enough. Turmoil made matters worse.

But Milic, who has replaced Curry as the Matadors' scoring leader, persevered. And so have the Matadors.

"You feel like [quitting] for the moment sometimes, but I never really truly considered it," Milic said. "With all the things that have happened, with Michael last year and this year with Eddie, it's been real tough.

"Pulling together is all we have."

Milic led an inspired performance Thursday, scoring 17 points in a 70-62 semifinal victory over Idaho State. That set up a rubber match with Montana, which defeated Northridge, 60-46, in January at Montana, Curry's last game with the team.

"I think you saw [against Idaho State] her determination," Coach Frozena Jerro of Northridge said of Milic. "She wants to beat Montana so bad, especially here. She's really focused on this.

"It's a testament to the character of the group, particularly the ones who have been around so long."

Milic, who averages 11.8 points and 6.4 rebounds, attributes the team's ascent this season to desire.

Such is the nature of playing basketball for Northridge, where basketball tradition, not to mention facilities, are lowly regarded among the Big Sky.

"We are really a team of fighters," Milic said. "We are. We are not crybabies. But we are not used to having good things. We are missing a lot of things at Northridge.

"We don't have such great support like people have here. We have nothing like this. So, you better be sure within yourself. There's nothing else to rely on."

Senior leadership has helped pick up the slack created by Curry's absence.

Adjusting has been difficult.

"Playing without Eddie has changed everything," Milic said. "Personally, there were moments I felt, 'We can't do this.'

"For three years I've been playing with her relying on her shot, knowing where she is on the floor. Then at midseason, she's not here. It hit us all kind of hard."

Northridge defeated Montana, 65-49, three weeks ago at Northridge when Milic scored 19 points.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

BIG SKY WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT

Thursday's Scores

CS Northridge 70,

Idaho State 62

Montana 70,

Weber State 60

Today's Final

CS Northridge vs.

Montana, 1 p.m.

*

BIG SKY MEN'S TOURNAMENT

Friday's Scores

Northern Arizona 82,

Eastern Washington 65

CS Northridge 76,

Montana 65

Saturday's final

CS Northridge vs.

Northern Arizona

at 8:30 p.m.

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