March 31, 2011

This Month in Matador Athletics - April, 2011

March 31, 2011

Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations, offers his monthly insights on the accomplishments of the teams, coaches and student-athletes who compete for Cal State Northridge ... The monthly report includes upcoming key games, and a report on what other activities are happening in the CSUN Athletic Department ... Does a collegiate event get any better than March Madness? ... CSUN basketball head coaches Bobby Braswell and Jason Flowers, and an administrator offer their points of view!!!

March Madness ...
So what is so special about the NCAA Basketball Tournament? ... What kind of athletic event would involve the President of the United States to take time out from his hectic schedule to pick his tournament bracket. From the President right down to the man or woman on the street who has a tepid interest in sports, March Madness grips your attention and refuses to let go. From sunrise to sunset, the talk is basketball, basketball, basketball.

Just two years ago (2008-09), Cal State Northridge competed in the NCAA Tournament and altough their tournament stay was short lived (one game), the event galvanized the entire CSUN campus on game day. Classes were cut short and almost every student, professor, administrator and even school President Dr. Jolene Koester witnessed CSUN's tussle with powerful Memphis on CBS. For three hours on national television, Cal State Northridge was the center of the sports world. The publicity and attention the school received was beyond belief.

Fast forward to 2011, and the Final Four for men's and women's basketball is right before us. Please have a seat in front of the big screen, invite your family and friends, have a cold beverage and devour your favorite food (please pass the wings and the chili cheese fries). Enjoy March Madness to its magical end.

"I can't remember an NCAA Tournament where so many games have been decided at the end of the ball game," said CSUN men's head coach Bobby Braswell. "For the first time ever, there are two mid-major teams (Butler, VCU) playing in the Final Four. As a mid-major head coach (CSUN), when I have a chance to watch and evaluate those mid-major teams, I'm always thinking about how our kids would react in those situations, and what I might do as a coach in those situations. My hope is that our players have watched the tournament to give them a belief and a dream that they can be committed to doing something very special."

Enthusiasm and school pride has reached a fever pitch at Kentucky, Connecticut, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth. Braswell remembers how CSUN's participation galvanized the campus, the alumni, the local community and how the positive feedback extended into the Southern Caifornia area and beyond. Like Cal State Northridge, Butler and VCU are mid-majors who are enjoying the limelight.

"I bet you if you asked the people at Butler if they would be back in the Final Four for a second straight year, they would probably had said no. But what you saw at Butler was a group of players who thought they could get back (to the Final Four). I know there is a high level of excitement in their locker room and on their campus. Those guys really believe they can win the national title because they have been there before. They have that level of confidence that extends from the campus into their community.

"There was a fire storm about whether VCU should have even been in the NCAA's. That galvanized the players and the rest of the basketball program to prove the experts wrong. I'm sure it's a wonderful time for VCU."

Braswell's is currently serving as a commentator on the Channel 2 NCAA Tournament Post-Game Show. "When that red camera light goes on, you know millions of people are watching so that can be a little nerve wracking. There is no script. It has afforded me an opportunity to talk about a sport I love, basketball. CBS has done a great job of covering the NCAA tournament. They are the experts in terms of televising sports and my expertise is talking about my profession, basketball. I've really enjoyed the opportunity."

Kentucky is returning to the NCAA Final Four for the first time since 1998, the year the Wildcats captured the NCAA title under then first year head coach Tubby Smith. Bob Vazquez, CSUN's sports information director, served as media coordinator for Stanford's participation at the 1998 NCAA Final Four in San Antonio. Kentucky beat Stanford. 86-85, in overtime in a semi-final game that kept nearly 41,000 fans in the Alamadome on the edge of their seats. Vazquez remembers the 1998 Final Four as if it was yesterday.

"The most exciting collegiate athletic event you can ever imagine," said Vazquez, who served nearly 24 years as sports information director at Stanford University before returning to his home roots in Southern California at Cal State Northridge in 2007. "From the time you arrive at the NCAA Final Four site several days before the game, it is a festival of team pride, a great reward for a great season and just a refreshing positive feeling. Even the other teams that were there (Kentucky, North Carolina, Utah) joined together to wish each other luck. No booing, no trash talk. If youe team wins, great. If my team wins, great. At the end of the game against Kentucky, nearly 41,000 spectators rose to their feet to applaud in unison the great play of both teams. You certainly don't see that very often except at the NCAA Final Four."

Parity has become a theme for the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament this year. In past years, schools like Connecticut, Tennessee, and Stanford have dominated the Final Four. This year, parity has made it a more competitive women's tournament.

Jason Flowers, who recently completed his first season as head coach of the CSUN women's basketball team, has enjoyed watching this year's women's tournament evolve into a Final Four that will still include perennial national contenders Connecticut and Stanford, but now the inclusion of a couple newcomers to the Final Four, Notre Dame and Texas A & M.

"Parity has made the NCAA women's tournament such an exciting event this year," said Flowers. "This year, a team like Gonzaga, an 11th seed from the West Coast Conference, made it to the Women's Elite 8. Then Baylor, a #1 seed and ranked #1 at one point of the season, was upset in the Elite 8 by Texas A & M. Then Notre Dame was able to beat another #1 seed, Tennessee, to make it to the Final Four. For all these things to happen and to even have defending NCAA champion Connecticut pushed to the limit by Georgetown in the Sweet 16, has added an excitement to the women's tournament."

Flowers also served as assistant coach at UC Riverside for two seasons where he helped coached the Highlanders to two post-season appearances including the NCAA's in 2009-10.

"As a coach it was certainly a reward for our players," said Flowers. "To see the kids play in the NCAA's and to even be a part of Selection Sunday ... That's what it is all about. I was proud as a coach to help those kids reach their dreams."

Flowers has also competed in the NCAA Tournament as a player. As a senior on the 2000-01 UCLA basketball team, Flowers helped the Bruins to the "Sweet 16" where they evenutally lost to NCAA champion Duke. The Blue Devils featured the talents of Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Jay Williams and Chris Duhon.

"There is nothing like the NCAA Tournament," remembers Flowers. "The pressure is both fun and stressful. It is something you dream about as an athlete. We played Hofstra and Utah State in the heart of ACC country in Greensboro, North Carolina, and then played Duke in the Sweet 16 at the NCAA East Regional in Philadelphia. That will be an event I will always cherish and appreciate. I hope one day I will coach our team to the NCAA's where they will be able to experience what I will always cherish."

Good luck to Butler, UConn, Kentucky, VCU in the NCAA Men's Final Four!!!

Good luck to UConn, Notre Dame, Stanford, Texas A & M in the NCAA Women's Final Four!!!

See You In May ... Go Matadors!!!

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