The course of the cursed

Alonso Tacanga

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CSUN Head Coach Bobby Braswell is a religious man. That’s never been a secret around the Matador locker room. His faith plays a big part in why he doesn’t think there is such a thing as a curse.

Braswell said it again after losing against Pacific on Saturday at the Spanos Center, a place where CSUN has now gone 0-9 in its history. It’s almost as if Stockton ‘- or Neverland ‘- cast a spell on Northridge. If it’s not some magic, at least some research should be done.

Braswell, though, will not talk damnation even though he’s been a witness of this curse ever since his Matadors joined the Big West Conference in 2001. There have been blowouts and there have been close games. A year ago, the Stockton drought should have come to an end after then-Matador Jonathan Heard was sent to the free throw line with 1.5 seconds to play and CSUN up 69-67. However, Heard, who was sure he’d finish his stellar Matador career with a win at Pacific, clanged both free throws. Next thing he knew, the Tigers threw a length-of-the-court pass and Michael Kirby sent the game into overtime with at an incredible leaner at the buzzer.

Needless to say, Pacific won, 78-73.

The Stockton legend has lived on through the times, but to Braswell it’s not about bad luck, it’s just about basketball. His approach is not surprising either. He’s had to deal with a lot more misfortune than losing a road conference game this year. If anything, the curse should have been placed on the 2008-09 season.

It all started on Jan. 3. Braswell’s son Jeffrey was arrested on suspicion of stealing from the store where he worked.’ The coach, a father of three, couldn’t have been more heartbroken, or disappointed, or angry. Regardless of whether the allegations are true or not, Braswell decided to let his son spend three days in jail. That couldn’t have been an easy call.

In addition to family drama, the coach also had to deal with team calamity. Braswell, whose Matadors were struggling at 4-8, lost his leading scorer, guard Deon Tresvant, who was also accused of being involved in the store thefts.

Big West play was just beginning when Tresvant had to depart without saying goodbye. His last game, coincidentally, was also against Pacific, on Jan. 2. Tresvant starred in that one, sending it into overtime with a 3-pointer.

Tresvant didn’t have much magic left in the extra period and the Matadors lost. He was dejected, but his postgame disappointment was nothing compared to the one he felt after learning he wouldn’t be able to play following the charges. Until two weeks ago, the guard still had hopes of returning. Braswell showed optimism over that as well, but Tresvant’s ‘- and his son’s ‘- not guilty plea on Feb. 26 has kept him from coming back.

Braswell, though, invited the guard to practice throughout the course of his legal matters and managed to bring Tresvant’s shocked teammates back to life. CSUN went just 2-2 after losing Tresvant, but then started rising up as the best in the conference behind a group of unproven Matadors who Braswell challenged to step up. Northridge won six games in a row while looking nearly invincible. The loss of Tresvant was looked at as if it had been a team injury.

But disaster struck again, and this time with a real injury. Josh Jenkins, the starting point guard and the Big West assists leader, was involved in a car crash on Feb. 14 that sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Braswell was upset, but felt blessed that Jenkins was alive. The driver of the vehicle didn’t survive.

Less than two weeks later, Jenkins was in street clothes, sitting on the bench next to his teammates. The senior wouldn’t suit up for the Matadors, who were in first place solo, but his mere presence was a huge break.

Everything seemed to go down the tube in the next game: a 22-point loss to UC Irvine. Their first-place dwindled. CSUN’s next game was a close affair, but also a loss. Then came a win ‘- but playing ugly. The following rival was Long Beach State, which was tied with the Matadors for the top spot in the Big West. Faith wasn’t at its highest point among CSUN followers.

But Braswell and the Matadors challenged logic and turned a ‘showdown’ into a 96-75 thrashing of LBSU. The coach would later use a Bible reference to justify the occurrences, calling his team ‘Gideon’s army,’ the army of 300 who defeated a much larger militia with God’s help. With the win, Northridge only had to survive two more games to claim its first-ever outright regular-season championship and a No. 1 seed in the Big West Tournament that starts tonight.

In their next game, at UC Davis, the Matadors proved their Long Beach State demolition was no fluke and beat the Aggies 99-72. There was only one more obstacle in the way of CSUN accomplishing what everyone expected them to do before the season started even without Tresvant and Jenkins. That big wall of bricks was called Pacific and its Spanos Center.

CSUN looked driven to end the curse of Stockton, leading by as many as seven points in the first half. But, of course, that wasn’t nearly enough. With 19 seconds to play, Kirby threw up a prayer over Tremaine Townsend ‘- who’s nearly a foot taller than the Tiger ‘- and it went in, making the Pacific lead five. The Tigers ended up winning 62-57.

The Matadors walked off the court in misery again, knowing they had most likely blown their chance at being alone at the top. Long Beach State was ahead by two over UC Santa Barbara with 6.8 seconds to play. A 49er win would have meant a shared championship and a No. 2 seed for CSUN.

But, as if by divine grace, the 49ers couldn’t hang on to that. James Nunnally hit the most improbable desperation buzzer-beating 3-pointer of the season and the Gauchos won, 76-75, lending a hand to a group of moping Matadors 350 miles up north.

Someone told them about the Santa Barbara shocker and their eyes lifted to the heavens in disbelief. Talk started. Pretty soon some claps and cheers could be heard.

CSUN senior Rob Haynes didn’t like it very much. He was too disappointed at not having ever won at Pacific to be happy. Braswell, who was nearby, also listened to the cheers, but wasn’t bothered even though he shared Haynes’ pain.

Braswell, who was named the conference’s Coach of the Year on Monday, figured it was OK to celebrate the outright championship even though he needed a small miracle in a faraway building for that to happen. After so much misfortune and talk about black magic, it was time the team – which he never admitted was cursed – got lucky.