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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Heinle Maneuver Drops Weber State

Analysis: You've gotta love those Matadors, even though there are times when they drive you absolutely crazy.

February 02, 2001|DAN LOUMENA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Some things are guaranteed in life, as sure as you'll fall in love and your heart will be broken.

And that's in the first 10 minutes of a Cal State Northridge basketball game.

As sure as Markus Carr can break down any defender off the dribble, Brian Heinle can take over a basketball game in the middle at both ends and Jeff Parris can get to the rim quicker than you can say, "There he goes."

The Matadors showed their schizophrenic nature again Thursday night in a 96-86 victory over Weber State. It moved them into the driver's seat of the Big Sky Conference race with a 1 1/2-game lead over the Wildcats and Eastern Washington, which defeated Northridge at home earlier this season.

It gets crazy in the Big Sky this time of year, and Northridge is usually in the middle of it.

The Matadors converted 10 of 18 free throws at one point in the first half while getting four Wildcat big men into foul trouble, and trailed, 46-40, at halftime.

"We don't like doing it that way and we don't plan on it," said Heinle, the 6-foot-9 senior center and arguably the best player in the conference.

But that's how the Matadors do it more often than not. Unlike in the past, they have the ability to close out games, although in a critical stretch with under three minutes to play they made four of eight free throws and had two turnovers after key defensive rebounds to keep Wildcat hopes alive.

But while they teased their fans and kept them on the edge of their seats, they sealed the game in the final 30 seconds when Carr and John Burrell each converted two free throws.

"I think we can play better," said Carr, a junior point guard from Palmdale. "The timing of our offense was off, it wasn't as fluid as it can be."

And Northridge kept switching from its stifling man defense to a 2-3 zone that Weber State would invariably break down for much easier shots than it ever saw against the man-to-man matchups.

"We like to keep them on their toes," said assistant Mike Johnson.

He could have easily been talking about the effect on the fans, not the opposition.

This is a team, though, that can find ways to win far more often than find ways to lose.

"It's the senior leadership," Carr said matter-of-factly.

The Matadors tug at your heartstrings with their tenacious defense. Or Carl Holmes, a 6-2 senior, going inside for critical offensive rebounds and baskets. They can send your emotions spiraling with the unthinkable--Weber State scored seven points in transition when trailing, 21-19, to take its first lead.

Until then, it appeared the Wildcats were going to have to scratch and claw for every point.

But the Matadors are a team that swept games in Montana, the toughest road trip in the Big Sky in the middle of winter. They won at Pauley Pavilion against UCLA and gave USC all it could handle.

Then again, they lost in Las Vegas and Milwaukee.

That's ancient history. Northridge, Weber State, Eastern Washington and Montana State will assuredly be four of the six teams fighting for the NCAA bid in March.

If you're lucky, you can watch all the action at the Matadome courtesy of a regular-season title. Be prepared to be on the edge of your seat until then.

And maybe longer.

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