Bridgette Ealy finds it difficult to clearly define her role on the Cal State Northridge women's basketball team.
"I do what I have to do," the sophomore guard says.
Thursday night against Chapman, Ealy did plenty.
She brought the ball upcourt, drove the lane and posted defenders down low en route to posting big numbers for the Lady Matadors.
Ealy scored 20 of her game-high 23 points in the first half as Northridge rolled to an 89-73 win in the opening round of the four-team California Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament at Cal Poly Pomona.
The victory improved Northridge's record to 21-7--establishing a school record for most wins in a season--and avenged two defeats to Chapman during the regular season.
Northridge, ranked 14th in Division II, will attempt to win its first conference title on Saturday at 6 p.m. when the Lady Matadors play third-ranked Pomona, a 73-72 winner Thursday over Cal State Los Angeles, in the tournament final at Riverside City College.
"We're feeling good about the way we're playing, our confidence is real high and we're executing," Northridge guard Vicki Mallett said. "We're doing the things we need to win ballgames. So if we can just stay with that we should be OK."
Northridge concluded the regular season last week with wins over Pomona and UC Riverside. And Thursday night the Lady Matadors again demonstrated that they are peaking at the right time.
"I think losing to them (Chapman) two times in conference really bothered us," said Northridge Coach Leslie Milke, the CCAA coach of the year. "I think deep down we felt we were the better team but we didn't show it."
Northridge players complemented Ealy's first-half performance. They made 12 of 13 free throws to help offset Chapman's 65% shooting from the field that enabled the Panthers to take a 39-38 halftime lead.
Chapman increased its lead to 43-38 less than a minute into the second half before Ealy orchestrated a 17-0, six-minute run that put Northridge ahead, 55-43.
"During the first half, they got impatient and took some bad shots," Milke said of her players. "In the second half they became patient and executed what we needed to do. That was the difference."
Said Ealy, who had 11 rebounds and four assists: "I think they thought I was going to come out and shoot the ball and play like I did the first half. But I just did what I have to do. Everyone on this team can score."
Indeed, forward Julie Arlotto (19 points, six rebounds), center Chris Cavalin (15 points, 11 rebounds), forward Paula Lucas (19 points, seven rebounds) and Mallett (13 points) keyed the second-half surge.
Chapman pulled to within 60-53 with a little more than 10 minutes left, but that was as close as the Panthers could get.
"In the second half, we had too many turnovers, we didn't block out or play good post defense," said Chapman Coach Paul Kahn, whose team committed 26 turnovers and finished the season 13-13.
Northridge will face a Pomona team that lost to the Lady Matadors, 67-61, last Thursday. The Northridge victory snapped Pomona's 26-game win streak in the CCAA and also ended Northridge's own 29-game losing streak against the Lady Broncos.
Northridge lost to Pomona in the CCAA tournament and West region final in 1985-86 and also lost to the Lady Broncos in the conference tournament final in 1986-87.
Northridge players are eager to prove that last week's victory was no fluke. "If we play like we did against them last week, we'll beat them," Ealy said.