Matadors in must win situation this weekend

Alonso Tacanga

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Northridge head coach Bobby Braswell is by no means any sort of choreographer, but a lot of his players are feeling great urges for dancing this time of the year.

Braswell, named Big West Coach of the Year earlier this week, and the Matadors (20-9, 12-4 Big West) begin their quest to obtain an NCAA tournament bid and will play in the conference tournament’s semifinals Friday at 8 p.m. The game, to be played at the Anaheim Convention Center (as are all Big West tournament games), will be televised on ESPNU.

“The intensity level goes up 100 percent,” said Braswell, who’s trying to lead Northridge to the “Big Dance” for the second time in its history. “It’s a whole different season. There are eight teams in this tournament that believe they can win it. We’re going to have to be very good (and) play hard, unselfish basketball to be successful.”

The Matadors will play the championship game the next day, Saturday, at 8 p.m. (ESPN2) if they advance. They enter the tournament on a winning note, following a 97-67 thrashing of Cal Poly last Saturday at the Matadome. Big West Sixth Man of the Year Deon Tresvant had 25 points to lead Northridge that night. Jonathan Heard, an All-Big West first-team selection, scored 19.

Tresvant scored all of his points in the second half against the Mustangs. This time, he said, he’ll double his playing productivity if that’s what it takes for Northridge to win the tournament title. The Matadors, who were a preseason pick to go nowhere, are the No. 2 seed and have beaten every team in the conference at least once.

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“(We want to) shock the world, show everybody that CSUN is for real,” said Tresvant, who was also named to the All-Big West second team along with forward Tremaine Townsend. “Cal State Northridge is back on the map. We’re going to go in (the tournament) and do what’ve been doing, which is winning.”

Northridge led the conference race for most of the season, but conceded the No. 1 spot after losing to UC Santa Barbara (23-7, 12-4 Big West), the tournament’s top seed, at home last week. Still, the Matadors got a pass directly into the semifinals and are in position to clinch their first NCAA tournament berth since the 2000-01 season with only two more wins.

Some players feel confident the feat will be achieved.

“We’re going to win. We’re not going to go down there and lose,” said 6-foot-8 forward Jayme Miller. “We’re going there with a focus. We want to win this tournament. We did it in (the regular season) and it’s time to really prove ourselves in the tournament. Then, we’ll go to the big tournament, the big dance.”

The NCAA offers automatic bids to its postseason to the winners of all conference tournaments, which is Northridge’s best shot at acquiring one. The Matadors could still be given an at-large bid, a berth given to certain teams selected by an NCAA committee, but it’s unlikely, especially if another loss is added to their overall record.

Northridge was last in position to qualify for the NCAA tournament three years ago, but a two-point loss against then-No.16 Pacific in the Big West tournament championship game prevented it. They haven’t been close since. Braswell hopes skipping two rounds will somewhat ease the tough path to the dance.

“We’ve never been in this position before,” said this year’s conference’s best coach. “We’ve always been ready to play on Wednesdays (when the lowest tournament seeds begin their play). To have two byes and get directly into the semifinals is a different position.”

Getting the direct ticket to the semifinals should help, as should counting with a couple more Big West standout players. Northridge guard Josh Jenkins and forward Calvin Chitwood were both conference honorable mentions, making the total number of distinguished Matadors four, one of whom isn’t even a starter.

Their coach is ok, as well.

“I’m very proud of him (for) winning the (Big West Coach of the Year) award,” said Tresvant of Braswell, “He deserves it.”

Braswell indeed deserved it. He has the hardware to prove it. The Matadors think they merit being in the NCAA dance. Can they match Braswell?

Friday night will give a glimpse of the answer. Saturday night could be the definitive response.

*Note: Follow the Matadors’ push to qualify for the NCAA tournament online! The Sundial is taking a vacation due to spring break, but you can still follow the men’s basketball team online. Log on to www.sundial.csun.edu