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Why Bakersfield? : Toros Feel Good About Cage Tourney, Bad About the Site

Times Staff Writer

Cal State Dominguez Hills was chosen to compete in the Division II Western Regional basketball tournament, which begins here tonight, but the big question is “why are we in Bakersfield in the first place?”

As the Toros prepared for the 8 p.m. game against host Cal State Bakersfield, newspapers in Los Angeles, Riverside and Alaska were questioning both the site and seeding process for the playoffs.

The Associated Press questioned why top-seeded UC Riverside was not awarded the host bid. It also questioned how Cal State Bakersfield (20-8), which finished in a tie for third place in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. behind UC Riverside (25-4) and Dominguez Hills (19-9), deserved to be seeded No. 2 in this tournament.

Bakersfield is hosting the tournament in large part, however, because it has more revenue potential in its new 3,700-seat gymnasium. During questioning by the media last Sunday, members of the national Division II selection committee repeatedly used the term “ fiscal responsibility " in defense of choosing this year’s eight regional playoff sites.

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Al Mathews, a regional selection committee member, went a step further when he told The Times: “Quite frankly, money is the most important criterion we look at.”

That means Bakersfield, with its larger facility and better chance for a sellout, won out over Riverside, whose gym seats only 955. The Highlanders, who play Sonoma State (17-12) tonight at 6, are making their 11th regional appearance but have not been a host yet.

UC Riverside Coach John Masi, the CCAA Coach of the Year, also posed questions about the seeding process, most notably how Bakersfield could be seeded ahead of the Toros? Further, the media in Alaska and Riverside questioned how Bakersfield got in the tournament.

In Alaska they felt one of the four teams should have been Alaska-Anchorage (21-9). Anchorage, a perennial power, was left out of the 32-team national field.

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Bakersfield Athletic Director Rudy Carvajal said the choice between seeding Bakersfield or close” but that the Roadrunners topped the Toros because they had one more victory and played a more difficult preseason schedule.

On how he engineered the tournament to Bakersfield, Carvajal said: “We did our homework. . . . We did a careful analysis of what it took to host it.”

Dominguez Hills Coach Dave Yanai said: “The bottom line is the players have earned this chance through hard work and it shouldn’t be a case of money buying some teams out of it and others in.”

Masi questioned the link between Bakersfield getting in the tournament and the potential for higher profits in its new facility. He said he feels the top-seeded team in each region should be the automatic host and will work toward that change in the selection process this summer.

“Why have polls during the season? Why have a seeding process?” Masi asked. “It diminishes all these games we play to get here. Why don’t we just wait until the final week, go find a big gym and everybody just play?”

Yanai says changes are in order before next season.

“We need to take a good look at developing some solid criteria.”

Masi also says he sees a need to change the process, but as for this weekend’s visit to Bakersfield, he said: “Our kids feel like they have been cheated.”

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Cal State Dominguez Hills is just happy to be included in postseason play, yet could be the great equalizer in the site debate. The Toros, losers of three of their last four games, defeated each of the three other regional teams on the opponent’s home court during the year. A 68-56 victory Feb. 2 over Bakersfield, however, was played in the city’s old Civic Auditorium.

“I feel good about the way our team has practiced,” said Yanai, who was forced to wait until last Sunday to discover if the Toros were in the playoffs. “It was a case of not letting the kids get down. It was very important to keep the guys focused.”

Dominguez Hills practiced even though it was unsure it had a postseason berth, yet it was a rematch with Bakersfield that was on their minds. A last second 52-50 loss in Carson to the Roadrunners was still fresh in their minds because a Bakersfield player allegedly had words with Dominguez guard Michael Bell in a parking lot confrontation during the CCAA tournament March 3.

Bell, who said he was caught off-guard by the comments, summed up the team’s feelings: “We’re stopping in Bakersfield on our way to Springfield.”

The winners of tonight’s games play Saturday night at 8 and the victor advances to the eight-team final the following week in Springfield, Mass.

With dollars and cents playing such an important role at this event, tonight’s losing teams need not fuss much. There’s a meaningless third-place game slated for Saturday at 6 to pick up a couple of extra bucks for the tournament.


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