March 8, 2008
By Bob Vazquez Assistant Athletic Director, Media Relations
Northridge, Ca - From the first day of the Big West Conference season on Jan. 3, 2008, the Cal State Northridge men's basketball team seized possession of first place, and on the final day of the league slate more than two months later, the Matadors remained in first place to clinch its first-ever Big West regular season title - shared or outright - in school history.
A decisive 97-67 victory over Cal Poly before another near sell out crowd of nearly 1,500 fans on Saturday night at The Matadome gave the Matadors a 12-4 league mark and an overall record of 20-9. UC Santa Barbara scored a 70-68 overtime decision at Long Beach State, and Cal State Fullerton earned a 74-66 victory at UC Irvine to give both the Gauchos and Titans a 12-4 mark to earn a share of the league title with the Matadors.
"No words can feel express how I feel right now," said senior all-conference candidate Jonathan Heard, who scored 19 points (9-for-12 from the floor) along with four rebounds and three assists. "We didn't know what to expect with so many new players this year, but we jelled together so fast. From day one, we knew we were going to win."
Because of the tie-breaker system, UCSB will be the No. 1 seed (3-1 vs Cal State Northridge & Cal State Fullerton) in the Big West Tournament (Mar. 12-15) at the Anaheim Convention Center. Cal State Northridge will be the No. 2 seed and Cal State Fullerton will be the No. 3 seed.
The No. 2 seed earns Cal State Northridge two byes, and an automatic berth in the Friday's semifinals at 8:00 p.m. The game will be televised live on ESPNU. UCSB, by virtual of its No. 1 seed also receives two byes, and will play in the other semi-final game on Friday at 5:30 p.m. That game will also be televised on ESPNU (delayed).
The men's tournament begins on Wednesday (March 12) with first round games featuring No. 5 UC Irvine against No. 8 Long Beach State at 6:00 p.m. The next game features No. 6 Cal Poly vs. No. 7 UC Riverside 30 minutes after the conclusion of the previous game.
On Thursday, March 13, at 6:00 p.m., No. 3 seed Cal State Fullerton plays the lowest remaining seed advancing out of the first round (Wednesday) while No. 4 seed Pacific takes on the highest remaining seed. Cal State Fullerton and Pacific received automatic byes to the quarterfinals.
The Matadors battle the highest remaining seed remaining from Thursday's quarterfinal games. UCSB tangles with the lowest remaining seed following Thursday's quarterfinals.
The victory over Cal Poly earned the Matadors their first 20th victory season since the 2000-01 season. It was the fifth time in the 50-year history of Matador basketball that the program has recorded 20 or more victories, and the third time in Bobby Braswell's tenure as head coach.
"This team listens and they are very coachable," said Braswell. "I thought we got better at every position. Talent helps obviously, but the players had the right attitude. They listened. We started this journey in first place and we ended the journey in first place. I'm extremely proud of the team."
Cal State Northridge put together an offensive blitz against the visiting Mustangs. The Matadors hit a season-high .597 (37-for-62) from the floor, came one short of the school record for three-pointers (16-for-26), scored 92 or more points for the seven time this year, out rebounded Cal Poly (34-31), dished out 23 assists, held the Mustangs to only .257 (9-for-35) in the second half, and .417 (25-for-60) for the game.
"We got a lot of steals, a lot of deflections and we ran the floor well in transition," said Braswell. "We got some easy baskets and that got us going."
Senior all-conference candidate Calvin Chitwood scored 17 points (6-for-9 from the floor, 5-for-6 from behind the arc) and chipped in with seven rebounds. As the game came to the conclusion, the highly supportive Matador crowd gave the team a standing ovation. That moment touched Chitwood.
"It felt great to have the support of the students, the university and the community," said Chitwood.
Jayme Miller has started all 29 games this year, and remembers the journey from the first day of practice to a league title.
"We have come a long way," said Miller. "We have stuck together the whole season. We were the underdogs to start the season, but we ended the regular season as champions. This win tonight gives us some good momentum going into the Big West Tournament."
"Deon and Josh really played well off each other," said Braswell. "Josh kept us in the game with some big three-pointers in the first half along with some nice assists. He played one of his better games tonight."
Cal Poly led by as many as eight points in the first half before Cal State Northridge made six consecutive 3-pointers, including three by Chitwood in the final 5:09 of the first half to cap a 22-10 run.
In the second half, Tresvant made two 3-pointers as part of a decisive 10-0 run that put Cal State Northridge ahead by double-digits to stay with 15:04 to play.
Aside from the great season, a league title, and a possible trip to the NCAA Tournament, Braswell praised the Matadors for their character.
"They are not only good basketball players, but they are also great, great young men," said Braswell. "They are high character people. I don't think we could have won this year without them. We have great leaders who are going to do the right thing and set good examples. Calvin Chitwood and Jonathan Heard have worked extremely hard. They have never been in any trouble, and have done everything we have asked them to do. They showed up at practice everyday. Jayme Miller came here and broke his hand in his first year and missed a year. His goal was to come here and win a championship. With Paul Wayne leaving the program, Rai Colston has had to play some very critical minutes. Rai is a walkon who has worked extremely hard. I'm extremely happy for our seniors."
Matador Minute ... Senior all-conference candidate Jonathan Heard tied a school record by playing in his 119th game at Cal State Northridge ... Heard shares the record with Brian Heinle (1997-01) and Markus Carr (1998-02) ... Heard collected nine field goals against the Mustangs to give him 497 for his career which pushes him into fourth place all-time at Cal State Northridge ahead of Cliff Higgins (491, 1981-84) ... Seventeen points by senior all-conference candidate Calvin Chitwood has given him 1,159 points to move into a tenth place tie with George Robnett (1,159 points, 1970-74) ... Seven rebounds by Tremaine Townsend gives him 267 for the season, ninth-best in school history.