Gators Enter Playoffs by Back Door, Will Challenge Cal Poly on Saturday

The San Francisco State women's basketball team, which will play at Cal Poly Pomona in the first round of the NCAA Division II Western Regional playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, is not a typical playoff club.

The Gators do not have a winning record and did not finish first or second in their conference.

San Francisco State finished 12-14 overall and tied Chico State for third in the Northern California Athletic Conference at 8-6.

So how did the Gators make the playoffs?

A process of elimination.

Sacramento State won the conference title and Cal State Stanislaus finished second, but both are ineligible for the playoffs because they are not Division II teams. Sacramento State is in Division I and Stanislaus in Division III.

Since the conference receives an automatic berth in the Division II playoffs, it decided to have a three-way playoff among San Francisco, Chico and fifth-place UC Davis for the regional spot.

San Francisco State beat Davis and Chico to advance to the playoffs. But the Gators may have a short stay in the tournament. They face a red-hot Pomona squad that is ranked No. 8 in Division II with a 21-7 record and 11 straight wins.

It will be a dramatic step up in class for the Azusa Pacific University men's track and field team when the Cougars face national power UCLA, Long Beach State and Cal State Bakersfield on Saturday afternoon at UCLA's Drake Stadium in Westwood.

"As far as level of competition, this is our biggest meet ever," Coach Terry Franson said. "Year in and year out, UCLA is one of the best teams in the nation."

It may appear ludicrous for tiny Azusa Pacific, with only 1,450 students, to face UCLA, which has 34,000. But the Cougars, who have won two straight NAIA national titles, do not lack talent.

The best known might be sprinter Innocent Egbunike, a bronze medalist for Nigeria in the 1984 Summer Olympics and one of the best in the world in the 100, 200 and 400 meters.

Other standouts are decathlete Dave Johnson and hammer thrower Phil Mann, both in the Olympic Team Trials, and Christian Okoye, an NAIA All-American in the discus and hammer throw.

"Their (UCLA's) depth will hurt us, so realistically I hope we can finish second," Franson said.

The Cougars will not have to wait long after Saturday to get another dose of major-college competition. They face Stanford and Iowa in a three-team meet March 16 in Palo Alto.

Who says small-time high school basketball programs can't produce major-college players?

Two San Gabriel Valley schools, Marshall Fundamental of Pasadena and Western Christian of Covina, are small CIF 1-A schools that are helping to break that unwritten belief.

Western Christian, with only about 350 students, has an NCAA Division I prospect in 6-3 center Dana Childs, and Marshall Fundamental, which has about 900 students, has a top-flight center in 6-3 Cherie Nelson.

Childs, who averaged 26.2 points a game, has signed a letter of intent to play at UCLA. Nelson, who averaged 32.7 points and 22.8 rebounds, is said to be No. 1 on the recruiting list of two-time defending national champion USC.

Nothing small-time about that.

With a starting front line that averaged 6-8 and another 6-4 starter, Pomona High may have had the tallest prep basketball team on this side of the Rocky Mountains this year, and next year's team will not be exactly short.

Pomona, which reached the CIF 3-A quarterfinals (losing to Bonita in double overtime, 53-51) and finished with a 24-5 record, will graduate two of its top starters in 6-8 Ron Draper and 6-7 Lamont Carruthers.

Next year's team may not be quite as tall, but it won't resemble the Hollywood Shorties, either.

Starters figure to include 6-9 center Marcellus Lee, 6-5 forward Tyrone Greer and 6-4 guard Derwin Collins, all part-time starters this season.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World