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Hair-Raising Effort by Parris, Matadors

College basketball: Forward who resisted Braswell's grooming rules helps Northridge cut down UCLA.

November 22, 2000|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WESTWOOD — Jeff Parris was there when the Bobby Braswell era began at Cal State Northridge in 1996.

And Parris was there at the end Tuesday night, punctuating the Matadors' 78-74 upset of UCLA at Pauley Pavilion with an authoritative dunk with 12.3 seconds to play.

And so it was fitting for Parris, the elder statesmen among the Matadors, to stand out in what ranks as the biggest victory in Northridge history.

If there was a game ball to give, it unquestionably would go to Parris, a poignant reminder of how far Northridge (2-0) has come under Braswell.

Parris, a 6-foot-5 senior forward from Long Beach Jordan High, was the first player Braswell signed after taking the Matador helm. He has been in the thick of things ever since, successfully petitioning the NCAA for another year of eligibility this season after entering college under Proposition 48.

On Tuesday, Parris was center stage and then some, scoring a career-high 27 points while playing his characteristically physical game. Parris had five rebounds to equal a team high and helped contain forward Jason Kapono, who was held to six points and committed four fouls.

After the game, Parris seemed at a loss for words, but not well-wishers who repeatedly offered embraces.

"We won," Parris said. "That's the best words I can think of saying. We won this from the first player to the last player. This belongs to everyone."

Yet, it was Parris, a career 57.8% free-throw shooter, who made 11 of 13 from the line, raising his two-game totals to 21 of 23.

It was Parris who muscled inside when it was needed most, placing his 223-pound frame in harm's way against the more formidable Bruin forwards.

And it was Parris who came through with a crucial basket after UCLA cut Northridge's lead to 62-60 with 3:28 to play. After taking an inbounds pass, Parris twisted and turned his way through traffic while dribbling toward the basket and a layup that restored the Matadors' momentum.

"Jeff is our X-factor," Braswell said. "He's 6-5, but he plays like he's 6-10 or 7 feet. The best thing that ever happened to this program is Jeff Parris getting an extra year. He proved he belonged. He earned it.

"He's put up with my madness and dealt with everything. I am so proud of him."

Ironically, Parris is conspicuously absent from the team picture, the result of a run-in with Braswell that might have made for a different outcome against UCLA.

Parris resisted Braswell's edict to have his hair and beard trimmed, only to reconsider. His teammates are happy he did.

"Jeff is going to be Jeff," guard Markus Carr said. "He's always going to play hard and he's always going to be physical for us. You know what's going to happen with him."

Parris was at a loss to explain his high-intensity performance. Or his sudden accuracy from the free-throw line.

As for Kapono, like the rest of the Matadors, Parris wasn't intimidated.

"I saw him play in high school, so I know how good he is," Parris said. "I guess you could say I played my best game."

Bruin Coach Steve Lavin was certain.

"Cal State Northridge came in and played a great game for 40 minutes," Bruin Coach Steve Lavin said. "They competed very hard and did a good job of changing their defenses. Hats off to them."

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