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SPORTS EXTRA / NCAA TOURNAMENT | The Road to Minneapolis...
Begins Back East : MIDWEST REGIONAL

For Openers, Northridge Will Get a Shot at Kansas

March 12, 2001|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The drama continued for Cal State Northridge on Sunday, one night after the Matadors advanced to their first NCAA tournament with an emotional victory at Northridge.

Coaches and players shook off the euphoria of the previous evening and gathered on campus to watch the telecast of the NCAA pairings.

Their reward? A No. 13 seeding and a first-round matchup with No. 4 Kansas on Friday in the Midwest Regional at Dayton, Ohio.

OK, so it's not San Diego, nor Boise, Ida. Northridge coaches, players and followers were expecting as much after days of digesting pretournament projections.

But when news of Northridge's fate flashed on the television screen, the overcrowded room erupted in jubilation, a carryover from the postgame scene Saturday night at the Matadome.

"Everybody tries to predict what's going to happen this time of year and you never know what's going to happen," Northridge Coach Bobby Braswell said. "It would have been nice to go to San Diego or Idaho so our fans could come up and watch us. But I don't know what kind of experience that would be for our guys to just jump on a bus to San Diego.

"We're excited just to be in the tournament."

Excitement hardly describes the mood at Northridge. Braswell, in his fifth season and the architect of the Matadors' unprecedented success, was interviewed on live television moments before and after the pairings were announced.

Northridge played in front of an ESPN2 audience for the first time Saturday night, defeating Eastern Washington, 73-58, for the Big Sky Conference tournament championship.

Now, it's on to bigger and better things. Much bigger.

"Kansas, that's a great draw," guard Carl Holmes said. "I think we can go in there and make some noise. I hope Kansas doesn't come in overlooking us. I don't think they will, not in the tournament."

Few figure to overlook Northridge (22-9), a senior-laden team that has posted impressive victories the last two seasons. The Matadors, of course, made national news in November with a 78-74 upset of UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. Last season, they won at Oregon and Fresno State.

Northridge has played five teams in the NCAA tournament field, still a first glimpse of the tournament bracket is certain to prompt some to ask, "Cal State Who?"

"We're going to start getting some information on them," Kansas Coach Roy Williams said.

Williams and Braswell need no introduction. Williams recruited former Jayhawk Adonis Jordan from Reseda Cleveland High when Braswell was the Cleveland coach. Both teams run a similar offense.

"I've known him for about 13 years and I consider him a heck of a coach," Williams said. "He played UCLA and beat them at Pauley Pavilion, if my memory serves me correctly."

Kansas (26-4) will play in its 12th consecutive NCAA tournament and 30th overall. The Jayhawks rank fourth behind Kentucky, UCLA and North Carolina in NCAA tournament appearances.

Kansas ranks fifth with 59 tournament victories and the Jayhawks' tournament winning percentage of .670 ranks ninth.

Kansas and Northridge have never met in men's basketball. The Jayhawks are 4-0 against teams from the Big Sky.

Time for Northridge to sweep up the confetti and get back to work.

"I'm excited to play against a storied program such as Kansas," Braswell said. "They have some great players, some All-American players, and we're just going to have to be good.

"We probably played our best two basketball games the last couple of nights. I think these seniors don't want to go out just having made it. They want to go out with a fight."

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