Although their team lost, about 600 fans who packed the Cal State Northridge student union Friday night to watch the NCAA game on a big-screen television were happy just to have been part of March Madness.
"Just making it into the tournament is good enough," said freshman Cynthia Kwok. "It's all that matters." She said she never expected the men's basketball team to still be playing this late in the season.
"I have confidence in the team's future now," junior Reisha Bailey said. "It's kind of sad that we lost, but this was the closest we ever got to the Final Four."
The game marked the school's first appearance in the NCAA tournament. The Matadors lost to Kansas, 99-75, in a first-round game in Dayton, Ohio.
Despite the loss, many Northridge students viewed their school's mere involvement in the tournament as a gift. For them, it was an opportunity to put the school "on the map."
"It's a different feeling," graduate student Matthew Fernandez said. "I feel like the country knows us for something other than the [1994 Northridge] earthquake now."
School spirit historically has been a sore point on campus, because most students commute to school and rarely participate in activities. But this gathering was unique.
"This is history," said senior Jeremy Sonenschein, a Student Union board member. "Regardless of what happens, students will remember this game forever because it's our first in the tournament."
They cheered when their cheerleaders were first shown on TV. They cheered when a Northridge player handled the ball for the first time. And they cheered when a graphic explaining the school's whereabouts and the size of its student population popped up on the screen.
The success of the Matador team this season took many fans by surprise. Junior Ranil Hapuarachi said he remembers a few years ago when only a handful of fans would show up at home games.
"We used to play cards in the stands," said Hapuarachi, whose face was painted red and black, the school's colors.
At the student union, students danced and ate free food as hip-hop music blared over the sound system during commercial breaks.
Hardly anyone seemed upset about their team's defeat--the only complaints came when the TV station temporarily switched its coverage to the Providence-Penn State game midway through the second half. The network returned to the Northridge game a few minutes later, after the team cut its deficit to 10 points.
Not everyone had to watch it on television. A few lucky fans made it to Dayton to watch the game in person. For them, no price was too high.
Michael Berman, a 1996 Northridge graduate, paid $1,800 for a plane ticket--and that was after he used frequent flier mileage to reduce the price.
"I had to go," he said. "It's an exciting opportunity."
In a last-minute decision, Garry Phelps, boys' basketball coach at Palmdale High School, went to Dayton with his wife and daughter. He said he had coached Northridge point guard Markus Carr at Palmdale.
"I wouldn't miss it for anything," he said.
Times staff writer Eric Sondheimer contributed to this story from Dayton, Ohio.