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Matadors Finally Run Out of Magic

March 14, 2004|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Cal State Northridge's storybook run through the Big West Conference basketball tournament wouldn't have a magical ending, but it did have a controversial finish against the league's hottest and, in the end, best team.

Miah Davis made two free throws with 5.1 seconds remaining Saturday night to give Pacific a 75-73 victory in the championship game at the Anaheim Convention Center, sending the Tigers to the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years.

Davis, the third-leading free-throw shooter in the conference at 85%, calmly made both shots after drawing a blocking foul by guard Davin White that had the Matador bench up in arms. White had an opportunity to win it, but his three-point try on the right wing bounced off the right side of the rim.

"I wanted to try to beat him one on one," Davis said. "I thought about crossing him up. I knew he was going to try for a charge. In a situation like that, you either get a no-call or a blocking call."

Sixth-seeded Northridge (14-16) pulled off upset victories over Cal State Fullerton, UC Santa Barbara and Utah State to advance to its first tournament final in its third season in the Big West. But the second-seeded and regular-season co-champion Tigers (24-7) brought along a 14-game winning streak, the second-longest in the nation.

The Tigers led throughout the game, but they couldn't finish off Northridge. White made a three-pointer and the Matadors cut the deficit to 73-70 with 1:24 remaining, and Eto Onyenegecha drilled another behind the arc 47 seconds later to tie the score.

Pacific grabbed a 57-43 lead, but Ian Boylan, who had 22 points and was the tournament most valuable player, capped a 17-5 run with a basket in the lane to cut the lead to two points, setting up the wild finish.

Four frenetic days appeared to catch up with the Matadors. Either they couldn't run their offense to get quality shots or they missed the open ones they got.

Northridge missed nine of its first 11 tries and Pacific took full advantage. David Doubley scored six early points on drives to the basket to force the Matadors to switch from a man-to-man defense to a 1-3-1 zone.

The Tigers started to hit from the outside. Tyler Newton's bank shot gave them a 20-4 lead.

Myree Bowden and Tom Cockle had steals on consecutive possessions and converted them into points to quell a brief Northridge rally. Davis' second three-pointer of the first half built the Tigers' lead to 19.

As they had done in their stunning semifinal victory over No. 22-ranked Utah State, the Matadors fought back in the toughest of situations. They scored 20 of the last 26 points in the first half, with Boylan's scoring the last nine.

His three-pointer cut the deficit to 37-29 and gave the Matadors a glimmer of hope.

Northridge's run had little resemblance to that of the NCAA tournament team of 2001. That team had veteran leadership and was expected to win the Big Sky Conference.

This team has one senior only, Michael Scott, and a freshman, Thomas Shewmake, as the starting center.

And there has been a season's worth of issues from the academic ineligibility of Onyenegecha to the 11-game suspension of Joseph Frazier and junior forward Chris Davis.

The Matadors survived those issues and appeared to be a dangerous team after Coach Bobby Braswell lifted the suspensions of Frazier and Davis a week before the Big West tournament. They ended the regular season by losing consecutive home games to UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton.

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