Bridgette Ealy makes it look too easy.
Ealy, a sophomore on the Cal State Northridge women’s basketball team, is fast, fluid and fiendishly versatile. At 5-foot-8, she loses defenders but never a step when she plays point guard, off-guard or small forward.
“Everything she does seems effortless,” Northridge Coach Leslie Milke said. “Some kids are really out there busting their butt and it looks like they are. It can be frustrating with Bridgette because, it looks so easy for her, we want her to go harder.”
Ealy, 19, figures to be at full throttle tonight when Northridge begins play in the four-team California Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament.
The Lady Matadors, ranked 14th in Division II, will meet Chapman at 6 p.m. in Poly Pavilion at Cal Poly Pomona. Third-ranked Cal Poly Pomona will play Cal State Los Angeles at 8 with the winners meeting Saturday at Riverside City College.
“With Bridgette, you have to be ready to go,” said Chapman Coach Paul Kahn, whose team defeated Northridge twice during conference. “Otherwise, she’ll go right by you.”
Like Northridge, which seems to be peaking at precisely the right time, Ealy enjoyed her two best performances of the season during the Lady Matadors’ final regular-season games.
Last Thursday, Ealy scored 20 points and had four rebounds and four steals as Northridge defeated Pomona, 67-61, at Pomona, ending a 29-game losing streak to the perennially powerful Lady Broncos.
On Saturday, Ealy scored a season-high 22 points and had nine rebounds and five assists in a 74-44 win over UC Riverside in the season finale.
“My whole game seems to be getting better every time I play,” said Ealy, who was named CCAA Player of the Week. “I learn a lot of different things every time out there. I haven’t surprised myself. I can post people down low and take the ball to the basket. The rest will come as I practice more.”
Despite her ability to dominate, Ealy is modest and anything but a ball hog, averaging 12 points, five rebounds and 2.5 assists a game. She is third on the team in scoring behind forward Chris Cavalin (15 points a game) and guard Julie Arlotto (12.4).
“She’s one of the most unselfish players I’ve ever seen,” Milke said. “She knows what’s needed of her and she has the ability to pull back or turn it on when it’s necessary. All around, I think she’s the best guard in the conference.”
Persuading Ealy to assume a more active leadership role has been one of Milke’s biggest challenges since Ealy arrived on campus from Chaffey High in Ontario.
Last season, Ealy averaged eight points a game but appeared tentative at times.
“Last year there were some conflicts,” Milke said. “There was some jealousy by people upset that they weren’t playing more.”
Said Cavalin, a redshirt last season: “We weren’t as close-knit as we are this year. Everything is better all around for the team and Bridgette.
“Last year at this time, you could just feel that everyone wanted the season to end.”
Indeed, unity is the overwhelming difference cited by Milke and team members when asked to identify the key to the Lady Matadors’ success. With 20 victories, Northridge has tied the school record for wins in a season set in 1985-86 and seems a good bet for a berth in the 32-team Division II playoffs regardless of its performance in the CCAA tournament.
With her stylish but unselfish play, Ealy has helped set the tone for the Lady Matadors.
“Bridgette sets the tempo of any game she plays in,” Arlotto said. “When she’s in, she makes us a fast-break team. She’s the catalyst.”
Growing up in Pasadena, Ealy concentrated on track. Her older brother, Corey, led Muir High to the 1987 Southern Section 4-A Division title, anchoring the school’s state championship 400-meter relay team and placing second and third, respectively, in the 200 and 100.
Bridgette competed for youth track clubs and once ran the 100 meters in 11.8 seconds.
Ealy did not play organized basketball until she was in high school. Her introduction to the sport came at the Jackie Robinson Center in Pasadena where she scrimmaged against such talented players as former USC standouts Paula and Pam McGee.
“I did a lot of learning by watching,” said Ealy, whose family moved to the Ontario area during her freshman year in high school. “I used to sit a lot because I wouldn’t get picked. All I could do was run.”
At Chaffey, Ealy was the tallest player on a team that went 13-2 her senior year and won the Baseline League title. She averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds and was selected league MVP, but her feats drew little interest from college coaches.
Chaffey Coach Joe Reynaga sent a videotape of Ealy in action to several schools. Northridge was the first to bite.
“The first thing that caught my eye was she anticipated well and her speed,” Milke recalled. “Even back then she played smart and you could tell she had a lot of court sense.”
If she continues to progress, Ealy seems destined to become one of the best to play at Northridge, Milke said.
Having played against Pomona All-American Cathy Gooden and other talented players, Ealy is confident that continued team and individual success could result in similar recognition.
“I think I have the potential to become one,” Ealy said of her All-American prospects. “It’s just a matter of me playing up to my potential all the time.”