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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Northridge Catching On With Folks in the Valley

Men's basketball: Raucous crowd greets Matador men in victorious return home after upset of UCLA and narrow loss at UNLV.

November 29, 2000|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Yes, there is a Cal State Northridge fight song. And it's quite catchy.

"Hail to the Matadors," a bouncy little ditty composed in 1972 by a former student, reverberated throughout the Matadome on Tuesday night, providing a celebratory soundtrack for the Matadors' triumphant homecoming after last week's stunning upset of UCLA.

Northridge routed Cal Poly Pomona (2-1), 75-50, before a revved-up 1,381 in its first home game since a 78-74 victory at Pauley Pavilion. Northridge (3-1) rebounded from a 70-69 loss Saturday at Nevada Las Vegas while giving the hometown crowd plenty to get excited about.

And whistle along to.

"You gotta admit, the school is not well known like UCLA or USC," band director Thom Willett said. "But it is our fight song. People know the song--if they come to the games."

The 1,600-seat arena at the commuter school in the Valley had its usual share of empty seats. But then, no one expected Jack Nicholson to be sitting courtside.

Still, electricity was in the air. The audio and visual feast included a jazz band, students dressed in colorful costumes and an extra roar of the crowd after big baskets by Northridge.

"It was phenomenal," Northridge Coach Bobby Braswell said. "The biggest difference is that people came out and supported us. My biggest fear has always been going out for warm-ups at 7 o'clock and seeing only 50 people sitting in the stands."

Northridge, after posting its first victory over the Bruins and first over a team ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, has been the talk of the town--one in which they have long been overshadowed.

After the game, center Brian Heinle, who led Northridge with 21 points, participated in what is believed to be the first live television postgame interview by a Northridge player on the floor of the Matadome.

Teammates Jeff Parris and Markus Carr also had their turn at the mike.

Heinle also signed autographs, another Northridge first, at least for him.

"That's definitely a first," Heinle said. "A lot of people have been cheering us on like we haven't seen for a while. We're hoping people will keep coming."

Carr, who led Northridge with 10 assists, said attention of the past week has been overwhelming.

"We've never had all this hype around here before," Carr said. "It's been kind of hard to adjust to. But it's going to go away."

Maybe not so soon.

Northridge plays No. 15-ranked USC at the Sports Arena on Tuesday and the eyes of Southern California, at least, will be watching.

One can only imagine the excitement another Matador upset would create.

"Soon as we beat USC, we'll own L.A., right?" said Nick Garcia, a Northridge shotputter who sat in the front row Tuesday.

Garcia was part of a trio of track athletes who painted their faces with the school colors of red and black, and waved toy swords.

Garcia, John Dagata and Brandon Goldstein were in fold at Pauley Pavilion and their appearance did not go unnoticed.

"We're going to keep this up every game," Dagata said. "Every game!"

That includes next week at USC, which is 3-0 heading into a Saturday game against No. 18-ranked Utah.

Northridge enters the Marquette tournament Friday against Kent. Centenary plays Marquette in the other game Friday.

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