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First Dance at Last

Northridge fans embrace team, which coasts to Big Sky Conference title and its first trip to NCAA tournament


NORTHRIDGE — Security never had a chance.

It's impossible to stop 42 years of frustration, futility and fragility. No way to stem the swarm of fans, alumni, parents, brothers, sisters and anyone else who rushed the court after Cal State Northridge won the Big Sky Conference men's basketball tournament Saturday at the Matadome.

For once, Northridge cheerleaders were crying for a good reason. The Matadors are going to the NCAA tournament.

Who will they get?

Arizona? Oklahoma? Maryland?

Teams that laughed in the past at game-planning for Northridge must face reality.

The Matadors' inside-outside blend worked to perfection against Eastern Washington, a team that won at Northridge the last two seasons.

Brian Heinle had 21 points and dominated the post.

Markus Carr had nine assists and 13 points in another stellar showing at point guard.

The final score, 73-58, was never in doubt, save for a few minutes in the first half.

Will it be Kentucky? Iowa State? Kansas?

"We're going to live together, fight together, die together," Carr said, a mantra that will need to be revisited in the next few days.

Northridge will not get a sweet seeding today from the NCAA selection committee--No. 14 sounds about right.

Only twice since 1990 has a Big Sky Conference team been seeded as high as No. 13. The Matadors don't seem overly concerned.

"Seedings don't mean anything," said senior Carl Holmes. "You're going to have upsets all week long."

Coach Bobby Braswell and four Northridge seniors showed up for the post-game interview session. Heinle had a piece of the net draped over his right ear. Jeff Parris snapped a photo of the media gathering. "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow," were Braswell's first words, part of his now-familiar focus on religion.

"This is just a collection of a labor of love the last four or five years. I can remember some very long days and sleepless nights.

"To have a chance to win the championship in front of fans, family and friends, I wouldn't ask for anything else."

Neither could the alumni. No more ducking behind the water cooler in the middle of March. No more hiding behind the sports pages at tournament time.

"Now I can go around the country and tell people I [went] to Cal State Northridge," said Ken Feldman, an attorney from the class of 1984. "And they'll know of the school."

Will they play Florida? Boston College? Illinois?

Nobody could have predicted this. Even Braswell, in his fifth season.

"It's happening a little quicker than I thought it could happen," said Braswell, who credited his seniors, his first recruiting class.

They're proof that Braswell chose correctly in focusing on high-school recruits instead of quick-fix junior-college players.

"They chose a place that doesn't have a big arena," Braswell said. "They chose a place that doesn't have the greatest facilities in the world. They chose a place that doesn't have much tradition. They chose a place where they thought they could be special."

Will they get Mississippi? Notre Dame? A rematch with UCLA?

Before the night ended, after the net at the western end had been snipped and the tournament most valuable player plaque had been handed to Heinle, Braswell grabbed the microphone and addressed the crowd.

"Guess what?" he said. "The best is yet to come."


First Dance At Last

1: Cal State Northridge's NCAA tournament berths

11: Number of steals Matadors had against Eastern Washington

22: Number of victories for Northridge, most since moving to Division I in 1990

41: Shooting percentage for Eastern Washington

7-4: Northridge's record in five Big Sky Conference tournaments

85-62: Coach Bobby Braswell's record at Northridge

3: Times Northridge has played in Big Sky Conference final

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