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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | ERIC SONDHEIMER

Braswell Rewarded for a Job Well Done

November 23, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER

The night manager at a Northridge restaurant left a note for the day manager Wednesday morning describing what transpired when Cal State Northridge basketball fans filled the bar to watch their team defeat UCLA in the biggest victory in school history.

"Students were pumped!" she wrote in the understatement of the night.

Anyone who turned on a television Tuesday night probably couldn't believe what they were seeing. All stations showed highlights of the seemingly impossible: Northridge 78, 11-time NCAA champion UCLA 74.

At ground zero, Pauley Pavilion, Northridge players and coaches wanted to savor a historic moment.

"It's the experience of a lifetime," said senior forward Jeff Parris, who scored a career-high 27 points.

"This is just unbelievable for our program," Coach Bobby Braswell said. "This team is an absolute gift."

Braswell received a hug outside the visitor's locker room from new Northridge President Jolene Koester.

To those who don't understand how truly remarkable this victory was, remember that when Braswell took over the program five years ago, he didn't have much to offer prospective recruits.

"We didn't have a facility, we didn't have a tradition," Braswell said. "We had to sell a dream."

The players bought into the notion that Braswell could lift Northridge to a higher level through his personality, coaching skills and hard work.

He did it at Cleveland High as one of the youngest coaches in the City Section during the late 1980s. No Valley team has reached the City final since a 25-year-old Braswell guided the Cavaliers to the title game in 1987.

He took a calculated gamble by giving up a well-paid assistant coaching position at Oregon to come to his alma mater in 1996. Northridge offered a head coaching position in Division I, but the drawbacks, obstacles and headaches would have caused others to decline.

During his five years at Northridge, Braswell has become a candidate for other coaching jobs. If he had gotten hired at Oregon, Oregon State, Cal State Fullerton or Loyola Marymount, he never would have experienced Tuesday's unforgettable David vs. Goliath moment.

"I'm the most blessed person in the world," he said.

This game was no fluke. Northridge outcoached and outplayed the Bruins. The Matadors kept switching defenses, from a match-up zone to man-to-man, and never allowed the Bruins' Jason Kapono to get off a shot without a hand in his face. Kapono finished with only six points and was scoreless in the final 34 minutes.

Northridge displayed no fear or hesitation when the game was on the line.

There was Brian Heinle blocking a shot by 6-foot-11 Dan Gadzuric, and going one-on-one against Gadzuric and drawing a foul.

There was Parris making a powerful move down the middle for a basket with Northridge clinging to a 62-60 lead.

There was Markus Carr hitting a three-point basket from the top of the key with 2:26 left for a 67-60 lead.

"We felt in our hearts the whole time we were going to win," Heinle said.

It was only the second game of the season for Northridge (2-0), but it was no ordinary victory.

"I told [the players], 'You're laying the foundation for what could be a great future for this program,' " Braswell said. "This is big."

*

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at his e-mail address: eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

* THE AFTERMATH

The day after Cal State Northridge's landmark victory over favored UCLA. D10

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