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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | BIG SKY TOURNAMENT

Northridge Puts Its Best Foot Forward for Television

March 10, 2001|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — No blackouts. No fire alarms. No shot clock short-outs. No broken bleachers.

Based on the last two weeks, it might be surprising to hear what happened Friday night at Cal State Northridge . . . nothing but basketball.

That's exactly the way it was envisioned by the host of the Big Sky Conference men's tournament. Sort of.

The omens had been ominous as the Matadors prepared to play host to the six-team tournament for the first time since joining the conference in 1996.

Last Thursday, the power fizzled in the first half of a women's game between Northridge and Eastern Washington. The game was canceled.

Earlier this week, the men's team had to evacuate the gym during practice because fire alarms sounded.

Images of confidence and brevity weren't exactly conjured up as the tournament began Thursday.

"It's the tendency of the people in the community around here to underestimate this institution," said tournament director Rhonda Lowry-Hyatt, who also serves as an assistant athletic director at Northridge. "Those were freak, weird occurrences. If these types of things were going on all the time, we wouldn't be a Division I program."

There were no foul-ups Friday. Most of the fixing, configuring and touching up already transpired.

Flower beds were ripped up and replanted earlier in the week. Fresh coats of paint were applied. Electricians did their thing.

"It's been a remarkable pulling together," Northridge Athletic Director Dick Dull said.

The only mild controversy concerned tickets.

Northridge administrators gambled earlier in the week by offering to buy any tickets unused by other schools in the tournament. Each school was required to purchase 100, but only Northern Arizona (90 tickets) came close to using its full allotment. Montana State purchased only 10.

Northridge, seizing the opportunity to fill the stands with pro-Matador fans, bought all unused tickets. One-hundred eighty tickets were unsold at tip-off Friday.

Eight remained unsold for Saturday.

Northridge administrators shrugged their shoulders.

They had already earmarked a loss in the "tens of thousands," Dull said. The host school is required to pay the Big Sky $205,000 for the right to put on the tournament. Based on the 1,600-seat capacity at The Matadome, Northridge officials knew this wouldn't be a money maker.

There were, however, other thought processes in place.

"This is a great investment for the institution," Dull said. "You can imagine what a 60-second spot on ESPN would cost. [When] we play [tonight in the championship], we'll get two hours of it."

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