March 22, 2009

One Last Look ... Cal State Northridge vs Memphis!!!

March 22, 2009

By Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletic Director (Media Relations)

Kansas City, Mo. - Stand up Cal State Northridge. Be Proud!!!

The mid-major commuter school from the San Fernando Valley captured the hearts of the nation during last Thursday's NCAA tournament basketball game against the powerful Memphis Tigers.

The reviews are in.

Cal State Northridge earned a "thumbs up" from the critics. A standing ovation is in order.

If you didn't know where Cal State Northridge was before the game, you know now. Thank You Matador Basketball!!!

Last Thursday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri, unheralded Cal State Northridge, seeded #15 in the tournament, faced the daunting task of competing against one of the nation's elite collegiate basketball teams, the powerful Memphis Tigers. For Cal State Northridge, a moment on the national stage was a golden opportunity to publicize its many positive accomplishments.

Tim Brando, the highly-respected broadcaster who is announcing his 14th NCAA tournament for CBS Sports, was assigned the play-by-play assignment for the Cal State Northridge-Memphis game.

From the start of the game to the end of its two and one-half hour telecast, Brando gave Cal State Northridge a heavy dose of positive publicity to a national television audience.

"In this kind of game you try to be aware that Northridge may only get 40 minutes of (NCAA) dance time at this party once a decade," Brando told the Los Angeles Times. "You want to tell their story as much as the Memphis story. We're putting a face on the Northridge story for most of the country."

And that's what Brando did. Brando pointed out the many positive stories of Cal State Northridge; its many distinguished alumni including actor Richard Dreyfuss and actress Helen Hunt; the courageous story of sophomore player Michael Lizarraga, who is the only deaf NCAA Division I student-athlete playing college basketball this year. And the merits of the nationally-acclaimed National Center for the Deaf. Cal State Northridge is home to the largest population of deaf students of any mainstream university in the United States.

That's publicity you can't buy for an extended period of time on national television.

So what is so special about the NCAA Basketball Tournament? Not only does it offer a university an opportunity to showcase its merits academically, it offers 65 teams an opportunity to win a national championship for schools like Robert Morris, Binghamton, Morehead State, Morgan State and Cal State Northridge. It offers the smaller schools the opportunity to compete against the elite teams (North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, UCLA, etc) for at least one day of the tournament. The opportunity to compete at the NCAA's is something special and magical.

Bob Vazquez, who served as sports information director at Stanford University for 13 NCAA basketball teams and one Final Four team, says going to the NCAA Tournament never gets old.

"March Madness never takes a back seat to the Super Bowl or the World Series," said Vazquez, who has been Assistant Athletic Director (Media Relations) at CSUN the past two seasons. "The NCAA tournament galvanizes the university, the student body, the community, the alumni, the nation. What a great experience for the Matadors. For three hours on CBS, the world revolved around Cal State Northridge. The memories of the tournament, albeit brief, will last a lifetime for this team and this university."

From the opening tipoff, it was obvious CSUN would not be pushed around or intimidated by a Memphis team that played in the NCAA championship game the year before, had won its previous 25 games, and was seeded #2 in the NCAA tournament. Only two minutes into the game, Cal State Northridge led 9-2.

CSUN told Memphis, "take your best shot. We're here to stay."

The Tigers eventually took a 34-31 halftime lead, but the Matadors were not going to quit.

Down 43-40 with 14:40 remaining in the game, Cal State Northridge continued its relentless desire to beat Memphis. CSUN continued to fight back as CBS television continued its national coverage. A growing legion of fans, both Matador supporters and those fans rooting for an upset, stay glued to this dramatic contest.

At the 13:56 mark, Mark Hill's three-pointer gave Cal State Northridge a 44-43 lead. A Willie Galick layup made it 46-43.

With 10:11 left on the clock, a lay up by Vincent Cordell gave Cal State Northridge a 62-56 lead. The crowd of more than 17,000 fans roared its deafening approval.

Hill sensed a changing aura in the makeup of the large crowd that was watching the game, and awaiting the second NCAA tournament game between California and Maryland.

"We sensed the large crowd was rooting for Cal State Northridge," said Hill, who will return to CSUN next season. "I remember seeing the Cal (Golden Bears) fans cheering for us ... maybe because both teams were from the west coast. A lot of people wanted to see Cinderella (Cal State Northridge) take down the big dog (Memphis). We had it going. We were making shots. We were winning the game. We had the crowd on our side. I was so proud of my teammates."

No doubt, you could also sense that millions of basketball fans across the nation watching on CBS were cheering for the underdog Matadors. It was David vs Goliath ... Northridge vs Memphis.

Back home, the Cal State Northridge campus became unified. The Sports Grill at the University Student Union resembled a crowded New York City subway station at rush hour to watch the game. Students and professors rushed to find television sets in classrooms and the library to cheer on the Matadors. Even University President Dr. Jolene Koester, who attends many home Matador games, took time from her busy day to watch one of the most dramatic NCAA tournament games in recent years.

Cal State Northridge fans, across the nation, were glued to their television sets, Ipods and computers to watch a potential upset in the making.

In the end, the power of Memphis prevailed, 81-70. However, the pride and passion of Matador Basketball remained strong as the team walked to their lockerroom.

"This meant everything to me to play with a group of guys who never quit," said Hill, who scored 13 points and dished out six assists. "We showed passion and heart. We showed the world we could go out and compete with anybody. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. This was one of the hardest groups of players I have ever worked with. This was an emotional event for me and my teammates."

Matador head coach Bobby Braswell, in an emotional speech to the team in the locker room, offered congratulations for a championship performance.

"I don't even know if I have the words to really say how proud I am of the team," said Braswell. "This group showed a lot of heart, a lot of tenacity. This team will go down as one of the greatest in school history."

Cal State Northridge graduates five seniors who chartered a resume that includes an NCAA appearance (2008-09), two Big West regular season titles (2007-08, 2008-09), one Big West Tournament title (2008-09), two winning seasons, several new school records, and an ocean full of memories. The seniors include Tremaine Townsend, who captured two rebound titles in the Big West Conference; Josh Jenkins, who finished among the school's all-time leaders in assists; Rodrigue Mels, the senior super shooter who won Big West Tournament MVP honors, and of course, Rob Haynes, a four-year veteran who will go down in Matador history as one of the top three-pointer shooters in Matador history.

But the cupboard isn't bare of essentials for another winning season in 2009-10. Willie Galick, Kenny Daniels, Mark Hill, and Vincent Cordell will lead a large group of returning letter winners.

For the present, Matador fans are singing the praises of a team that performed like champions, on-and-off the court.

"I've been doing this a long time, and I've never coached a team that's been through the adversity we've been through," said Braswell, who completed his 13th season as head coach at his alma mater, Cal State Northridge. "For these guys to step up they way they've stepped up, I'm just so proud of them. I really am."

After the team's loss to Memphis, the team boarded the bus to take them to the airport for the charter flight home. Willie Galick looked back at the Sprint Arena. "Let's do this again next year, win a game or two, and really enjoy the atmosphere of this great tournament."

Well done, Matadors!!!