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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Northridge Returns With Postseason Hopes Vanquished

Men's basketball: Loss in Big Sky title game leaves Matadors with 20-10 record but nowhere to play.

March 15, 2000|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A weary Cal State Northridge basketball team finally arrived home from the Big Sky Conference tournament at 2:30 a.m. Monday.

Truth is, the end of the road came even earlier for the Matadors.

After failing in their bid to win the Big Sky title and an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament, Coach Bobby Braswell and players learned of their season's end while awaiting a flight in the airport at Spokane, Wash.

The Matadors traveled three hours by bus from Missoula, Mont., where they were defeated Saturday night in overtime, 85-81, by Northern Arizona in the Big Sky title game.

Players and coaches watched the television broadcast of the NCAA tournament selections, hoping for an unlikely at-large berth.

It didn't come.

Northridge turned its attention to the National Invitational Tournament, hoping for a bid.

It never came.

"I'm not going to say I'm completely shocked," Braswell said. "But I'm disappointed."

Call it a form of March Madness. Northridge isn't the only team all psyched up with nowhere to go.

Northridge was among 24 teams with at least 20 victories snubbed by the NCAA for an at-large bid. Ten of those schools were selected to play in the NIT. Northridge's exclusion from the NIT was predictable. The tournament typically includes schools with name recognition and large followings.

But Northridge, which came within a close-range shot of reaching the NCAA tournament, made strides to heighten its profile.

The Matadors (20-10) won more games than in any season since 1978 while posting a 12-1 record at home. The road was a different story, but Northridge made headlines with early season victories at Fresno State and Oregon, both NCAA tournament teams.

Including Northern Arizona, which fell to Northridge, 69-66, at Northridge this season, the Matadors posted victories over three teams that advanced to the NCAA tournament.

"You have to feel good about that," Braswell said. "By our record alone, I thought we deserved to go. But the NIT is a little bit different."

In four seasons in the Big Sky, Northridge twice has advanced to the title game. This time, the Matadors narrowly missed an unprecedented bid to the NCAA tournament.

Point guard Markus Carr missed a driving shot from the lane with 2.8 seconds left in regulation and Northridge lost in overtime. Northern Arizona (20-10), making its second NCAA appearance in three years, won two of three games against Northridge this season.

"They deserve an NIT bid," Coach Mike Adras of Northern Arizona said of the Matadors. "Our league deserves that."

Northridge will play one more season in the Big Sky before moving to the Big West in 2001. The Matadors figure to remain among the conference's best teams.

Graduation will claim only two key players, forwards Andre Larry and Hewitt Rolle. Forward Jeff Parris is expected to gain another year of eligibility and likely will remain an inside force.

Center Brian Heinle, who led Northridge in scoring this season, will return for his senior season. Freshman Dan Read, 6 feet 10, should play an increased role.

Carr will be a junior. Three-point specialists Marco McCain and Denny Ogden will be seniors. Same goes for guard Carl Holmes.

John Burrell, a transfer from Nevada, sat out the season because of NCAA transfer rules. Burrell, a former standout at Highland High and Antelope Valley College, will be a senior and could make an immediate impact.

Burrell led Nevada in scoring in 1998-99, averaging 16.4 points.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

NO INVITATIONS

Division I teams with 20 or more victories passed over by NIT and NCAA tournaments.

CS Northridge 20-10

Coll. of Charleston 24-6

Detroit 20-12

Sam Houston St. 22-7

James Madison 20-9

Louisiana Tech 25-8

Murray State 23-9

Maine 24-7

Marshall 21-9

Navy 23-6

Ohio 20-13

San Diego 20-9

S.W. Louisiana 25-8

South Alabama 20-10

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