Northridge Women Hope Points Flow Like Milke in Return to NCAA Playoff

Times Staff Writer

The last time the Cal State Northridge women's basketball team reached postseason play, it was led by a little sophomore point guard by the name of Leslie Milke and a sophomore forward named Paula Moran.

The year was 1977 and, until this season, that appearance in the Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women playoffs was just about the only highlight in the 11-year history of the Lady Matadors' program.

Northridge was eliminated from the regional by Cal State Long Beach in the first round. Hey, when you've only made a postseason tournament once, a first-round loss qualifies as a highlight.

Saturday at Northridge, Milke, now in her third season as the Northridge coach, and her assistant, Moran, will again lead their team into the playoffs, hoping this time to add a positive note to the playoff ledger.

The Lady Matadors will play UC Davis at 7:30 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA Division II West Regional. The winner will play defending national champion Cal Poly Pomona on Tuesday at Pomona for the regional championship.

Since the 1976-77 season, the Northridge program has a record of 121-125. In her first two seasons as coach, Milke was 17-3.

This season, she engineered an impressive turnaround, leading Northridge to a school-record 19-8 mark and a second-place finish behind Pomona in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. The Lady Matadors were ranked 14th in the nation in the final NCAA poll, and Milke was named the CCAA Coach of the Year.

On the eve of Northridge's biggest game in nine years, you'd think that Milke would be savoring the moment. Hardly.

"I wish the game were tonight," she said. "We're ready."

The Lady Matadors had five players named to the All-CCAA team this week.

Tara Flanagan, a first-team all-conference center, is averaging 11.7 points a game and set a school record by shooting .823 from the free-throw line.

She combined with forwards Regan O'Hara and Denise Sitton to form one of the toughest front lines in the CCAA.

O'Hara, a sophomore, averaged 11.2 points a game and led the team in rebounds with 8.2 a game. Sitton, a junior, scored 11.6 points a game.

Sitton, who received honorable mention to the all-conference team, needs 10 points Saturday night to pass Milke for fourth place on the school's career scoring list. She may have to do some of her scoring from the bench.

"When she comes within about two points, I'm benching her," Milke said in jest earlier this season. "I'll say it's because of disciplinary reasons or something. I'll make up an excuse."

Milke has 910 points. Moran is the leader with 1,264 points.

"I'm not really worried about it," Milke said. "The one to watch is Regan. She's going to break everything before she's done here."

O'Hara, a second-team selection this season, has 592 points in her first two seasons.

Senior guard Renee Loch, a second-team all-conference choice, needs one assist to break the season mark of 113 set by Shelli Mosby in 1981-82. She's averaging 9.3 points a game and is in seventh place on the career scoring list with 798 points.

Northridge and Davis (17-9) have already met in tournaments twice this season. The Lady Matadors won both times. They beat the Aggies, 78-73, in November and 82-74, in December. Northridge leads the overall series, 5-2.

Davis Coach Pam Gill is confident that it will be a different scenario this time around.

"Inexperience hurt us earlier in the season," she said. "I know Northridge has come a long way since we played them, but I feel we have taken great steps since December ourselves. Staci Stevens, especially, has matured a lot since the last time we played them."

Stevens, a sophomore center, averaged 13 points a game and was named the Northern California Athletic Conference's player of the year.

Against Northridge, she was limited to 19 points in two games.

Stevens was one of five Aggie players named to the all-conference team. Cheryl Clarkson, Pat Jung, Denise Stennette and Sandy Brown were also selected.

Gill, who led the Aggies to their first NCAC championship since they joined in 1981, was named the conference's coach of the year.

The 17-9 mark was Gill's best in 12 seasons at Davis. The Aggies were ranked 19th in the nation three weeks ago, but fell out of the top 20 in the final poll without playing a game.

"I didn't think we'd get the invitation to the regionals when we weren't ranked in the final poll," Gill said. "I feel like we deserved to be in, but I didn't think it was going to happen."

During the nine-year drought at Northridge, it sometimes seemed as if it would never happen either. Now, the Lady Matadors are one day away from adding a page to its playoff record book, one that more closely resembles a short story.

"We've been trying hard to build a good program here," Milke said. "It's nice that it's finally paying off."

And how do the players feel?

"I'm not nervous at all right now," Sitton said. "I will be when the game comes, but it will be a good kind of nervous."

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