There was something noticeably different about Cal Poly Pomona center Niki Bracken, and it had little to do with the sore right ankle she has been nursing for the past three weeks.
Cal State Northridge Coach Leslie Milke recognized Bracken’s disposition as soon as the Lady Matadors took the floor to play Pomona in the final of the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. women’s basketball tournament.
“She was in a different gear than she was the last time we played them,” Milke said of Bracken. “There was something in the look in her eye tonight that said she wasn’t going to be stopped.”
Bracken scored 30 points and had eight rebounds as the Lady Broncos, ranked third in Division II, defeated 14th-ranked Northridge, 75-62, Saturday night at Riverside City College.
Pomona has won every CCAA title since the conference was established in the 1981-82 season. It was the third time in the four-year history of the CCAA postseason tournament that Pomona defeated Northridge in the final.
The Lady Broncos (24-5 overall) will begin their quest for a fourth national title when they play host to the West regional--which could also include Northridge (21-8)--Friday and Saturday. The Division II field will be selected today.
“When I get in my mind that I’m the best, that’s when I really play,” said Bracken, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds in a semifinal victory over Cal State Los Angeles on Thursday and was named the tournament’s most valuable player for the second consecutive season. “When it comes down to the last couple of games and we’re going for the championship, I just feel no one can stop me.”
Northridge was attempting to duplicate the performance that earned the Lady Matadors a 67-61 victory over Pomona on Feb. 23, ending the Lady Broncos’ 26-game CCAA win streak and the Lady Matadors’ 29-game losing streak to Pomona.
But in that game Bracken, still hampered by the effects of an ankle injury she sustained Feb. 9 against Chapman, scored just 16 points.
Saturday, the 6-foot-2 junior from Compton High scored 16 points in the first half, making eight of 10 field-goal attempts.
“We’d let her get the ball and turn around,” said Northridge guard Bridgette Ealy, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds. “You can’t let her get the ball because every time she gets it, she will score. I mean, she’s automatic.”
Northridge’s Chris Cavalin, who scored a team-high 18 points, pulled the Lady Matadors to within 15-11 with 12:39 left in the first half.
Bracken, however, scored eight points during a 16-4, six-minute run that staked the Lady Broncos to a 31-15 lead. Northridge trimmed the deficit to 38-29 by halftime, but the Lady Matadors never got closer than nine points.
“We played tired tonight,” said Milke, whose team defeated Chapman, 89-73, Thursday. “I don’t know whether it was a physical or mental tiredness or a combination of the two.”
Cathy Gooden, Pomona’s senior All-American guard, had 15 points, including three three-point baskets, and five assists. Forward Stephanie Coons added 12 points.
Led by Bracken, who made 14 of 22 field-goal attempts, Pomona outshot Northridge, 54% to 39%, and outrebounded the Lady Matadors, 38-33.