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Northridge Shows How to Close in Eye-Opener

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cal State Northridge women’s basketball team, improving steadily, reached a significant milestone with a 66-63 victory over Northern Arizona in a Big Sky Conference opener Wednesday night at the Northridge gymnasium.

For Northridge (7-4 overall), the signs of a once-dismal program now on the verge of challenging for conference supremacy abounded.

The Matadors beat defending co-champion Northern Arizona (6-5) for the first time since 1992 and for the first time in five games at Northridge.

Last season, Northern Arizona beat Northridge three times, including a 61-49 victory in the conference playoffs that ended the Matadors’ season at 14-14.

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“I think that we sent a message to the Big Sky Conference tonight,” Coach Frozena Jerro of Northridge said. "[Northern Arizona] is a good team, a championship team, and this is a good league. I told the players that we matured today.”

A big indicator was the Matadors’ holding a lead that was in jeopardy in the final minutes.

Northridge led almost from start to finish, taking a 4-3 lead and never again trailing. The Matadors led by as many as 17 points in the second half, but it took free throws by junior Lynda Amari and sophomore Edniesha Curry in the final 1:10 to snap a 61-61 tie.

Amari, a transfer from Ventura College, had 24 points for the Matadors.

More significant, perhaps, was Amari’s absence late in the second half. With Amari on the bench, Northern Arizona launched a 12-2 run that narrowed the gap to 55-51 with five minutes to play.

Amari, a member of Ventura’s state-championship team in 1997, returned and made four of six free throws down the stretch.

“We foresaw that she would be one of our big players right away,” Jerro said. “Now, we’re reaping the benefits.”

Amari scored in the lane seconds into the second half and, moments later, swished a three-point basket, her second in as many tries.

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“I don’t see myself as a rookie,” said Amari, who scored 31 against Pepperdine last month. “I’ve been around too long. If you look scared out there, they see it in your eyes and take advantage of you. I know I do that.”

Seconds after her three-pointer, Amari made an authoritative block of a shot by Jess LeBlanc. The play was met with resounding cheers.

LeBlanc, a senior forward, had 10 points and set a school career scoring record early in the game.

“All of the games, they’re all big,” Amari said. “It doesn’t matter to me who we play or who is No 1 and who is No. 5. But that was a big win for us tonight.”

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Curry, conference freshman of the year last season, did not start because of “a minor disciplinary matter,” Jerro said. She entered early and had two points in the half.

Curry preceded Amari’s second-half scoring with a three-point basket and a driving one-handed layup. She finished with 12 points.

Northern Arizona’s RaeAnn West, who scored 20 points, spurred the Lumberjacks’ rally with 14 second-half points. West’s two free throws with 1:20 to play got Northern Arizona even, 61-61.


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