Last Thursday night around 7 p.m., I was sitting in a hotel bar in Anaheim before the start of the men’s basketball team’s first game in the Big West Conference tournament. President Jolene Koester stood a few steps away from me, talking to the mother of CSUN forward Austin Waggener.
I was conversing with Stephanie Johnson, mother of Matador guard/forward Jonathan Heard, about her experiences driving up to Stockton for last month’s nationally televised game against Pacific.
Associated Students President Cara Keith was in the corner of the bar with a slew of A.S. folks, all sporting red and black CSUN attire. Across the way, an Athletics Department staff member entertained some sports-loving alumni before game-time.
My father, who flew out from Chicago mainly to watch the team play in the tournament, mingled with members of “The Bullpit,” the student cheering section for the men’s basketball team.
Sometimes I love this school.
Only at a sporting event can you see such a hodgepodge of people proud to be associated with CSUN. And it’s rare that I am myself overwhelmed with pride for this school, but it happened this past weekend as we, the fans, witnessed our team play two exceptionally exciting games down in Anaheim.
All of the fans that made the trek down to Anaheim had one thing in common — they all had the desire to see the men’s basketball team win the tournament and receive a coveted NCAA tournament bid. That, and we all spent three unbearable hours stuck in traffic on Interstate 5, a route that should only take 45 minutes.
CSUN fans gathered at the Anaheim Hilton before game-time on Thursday. The Alumni Association was serving free food and drinks for anyone cheering for CSUN.
I am a member of the Bullpit cheering group, and we excitedly made our way over to the arena after the Alumni Association-sponsored pre-game festivities.
Walking into the Anaheim Convention Center Arena is one of the most exhilarating experiences a fan can have, and not just because of the 9,000-person seating capacity. It’s also because CSUN fans entered the arena jazzed up in hopes of a victory.
The 30-member Bullpit found its student seating section, and after a quick run-in with some already seated fans about how the Bullpit members standing throughout the game would interrupt their “viewing experiences,” the group got ready for the game.
The team made its way out of the locker room, and the group shouted, “Bobby! Bobby! Bobby!” when Coach Bobby Braswell made his way onto the court.
Midway through the game, UC Irvine fans, not typically justified in “going on the attack” in criticizing other schools, put up a sign that read, “CSUN = High School Gym, High School Band.” This was a poke at not only the 1,600-seat Matadome, but the fact that the only kind of pep band CSUN can get to play at basketball games is from local high schools, such as Granada Hills Charter High School.
But the Bullpit promptly chanted back at UC Irvine fans with a “Cal State rejects” chant that, despite its logical inaccuracies, seemed to quiet their crowd. The ultimate “fan silencer,” however, was CSUN’s victory over Irvine 72-56.
Thursday’s game was exciting, but CSUN’s victory Thursday wasn’t exactly a surprise. Fans were really looking to Friday night’s game against nationally-ranked conference champ Pacific, the team that eliminated the Matadors from the tournament finals last year, robbing Northridge of an NCAA tournament bid.
Another big crowd made its way down from Northridge, in Friday afternoon traffic, to see what would hopefully be an upset of historic proportions.
Bullpit members did a pre-game tailgate in the parking lot, and as they made their way into the arena, the Bullpit cheering section had noticeably grown to include over 45 students, caped in the same red T-shirts.
Pacific fans still outnumbered CSUN fans nearly 4 to 1, but it didn’t matter, as anything was possible. I even set my TiVo in hopes that ESPN would cut into coverage with CSUN making it a close game at the end.
With around five minutes left in the second half, CSUN was down by as many as 12 points. But with less than a minute left, CSUN fan-favorite Ian Boylan almost single-handedly made a game of it, giving CSUN a one-point lead, and charging up a “We believe! We believe!” chant from every CSUN fan in the building. Dozens of Utah State fans, waiting for their game to start, joined CSUN fans in looking for the upset, as a fan in front of me hollered as loud as he could, “This season doesn’t end tonight!”
But this upset would never come.
Pacific held it together, and drowned the happiness of CSUN fans throughout the arena by eking out a 63-61 victory over our boys. A thrilling game of basketball, but at the end of the day, CSUN walked away empty-handed. To top it off, the high school band we had hired for the game, due to ESPN-mandate, was late due to traffic, and ESPN never televised our game, despite its close finish.
As CSUN fans, we’re used to disappointment, but if one looks at each loss with maturity, it’s easy to realize that the players we rooted for all season worked hard enough, where nothing is really ever a loss. Too much had been gained.
Not to sound too sentimental, but that’s what it’s all about: the Greeks, A.S., the Athletics Department, the administration, the Bullpit, alumni, players’ parents, community supporters and a bunch of little kids all cheering for a bunch of students named Okwudiboyne, Locke, Heard, Chitwood, Onyenegecha, Vance, Altheimer, Frazier, Shewmake, Jones, White, Waggener, and Boylan.
Thanks for the great season, guys.