Dancing Morning!

Alonso Tacanga

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CSUN Head Coach Bobby Braswell looked like an anxious boy waiting on a promised birthday bicycle Sunday afternoon as he sat at the Pub Sports Grill expecting to hear his team’s name be called into an NCAA Tournament bracket.

After CBS finally announced the Matadors seed on the board, 15th in the West region, and their rival, No. 2 seed Memphis (31-3), the coach applauded.

His players did, too. And cheered. And hugged. And laughed.

‘It’s going to be a moment they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,’ said Braswell, whose team opens in the first round at the Sprint Center on Thursday at 9:25 a.m. ‘There’s nothing like sitting in front of a TV and seeing your name called.’

Memories such as everyone playfully attacking guard Mark Hill for correctly predicting the Tigers would be the Matadors’ first test might live on, but what’s sure to remain drenched in every Matador player’s remembrances is the game itself. CSUN, in its second-ever Tournament appearance, will have to upset a team that’s won 25 consecutive games to advance to the next round.

The Tigers (No. 3 AP/No. 2 Coaches) went 16-0 in Conference USA and won the league tournament as well. They have the least losses out of any NCAA Division I team, yet they were given a No. 2 seed due to the ‘inferior’ competition they faced in the regular season.

‘They’re going to have a chip on their shoulder.’ Braswell said. ‘They believe they should have been a No. 1 seed.’

The top seeds instead went to three members of the Big East Conference – Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh ‘- and the ACC’s North Carolina. Memphis, which was a runner-up for the championship last season, figures not to care too much as long as it keeps winning. That’s something the Tigers have been doing for almost three straight months.

‘We’re fine,’ said Memphis coach John Calipari in a teleconference. ‘I’m happy. We’re being treated fair.’

On the other side of the galaxy, there are the Matadors, winners of 17 of 30 games. CSUN’s mere inclusion in the Tournament was a celebrated accomplishment. The Matadors lost two of their top players midway through the season and somehow pulled through, winning their conference’s regular-season and tournament championship. CSUN’s won 11 of its last 14 games.

Realistically, going up against a powerhouse, one that allows the fifth lowest amount of points per game (56.9), CSUN is a long shot. The Matadors, however, know of improbability. With all the adversity they’ve met this season, their whole year has been based on that

‘This group has been through everything,’ Braswell said. ‘They won’t be in awe of anyone. They’ll have a healthy dose of respect for Memphis, the way they should, but I think they’ll come out and give a great effort.’

Adding to the talent, the Tigers are also big. Memphis’ starting lineup outsizes the Matadors’ by almost a foot.

After hitting the jackpot with now-Chicago Bull point guard Derrick Rose last season, the Tigers found a new wonder in Tyreke Evans this year. The 6-foot-6 freshman started out 2008-09 as a shooting guard but then moved to the point and has since turned into one of the league’s top first-year players. Evans’ match-up, Hill, is 5-11.

‘There is a big size difference,’ Braswell said. ‘We know they’re going to try to take advantage of that.’

The freshman averages 16.6 points per game. Besides Hill, the Matadors’ other defensive tactic is their best offensive weapon: 6-foot-3 Big West Tournament MVP Rodrigue Mels, who’s scored 51 points combined in two games last weekend.

Three other Tigers average double–figure points per game: forwards Robert Dozier (12.8) and Shawn Taggart (10.4) and guard Antonio Anderson (10.2).

‘Anything is possible,’ Hill said. ‘No one thought we’d be in this position. We’re just going to go out there and play hard and fearless and we’ll see what happens at the end of the game.’