Nov. 17, 2010
By Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletic Director (Media Relations)
Berkeley, Ca. - Michael Lizarraga's credo is simply ... "don't tell me I can't because I will."
Lizarraga is the only deaf player to compete on the major college basketball level this season. Despite the daily challenges he faces with his inability to hear, Lizarraga refuses to throw pity on himself. All he wants to do is play a game (basketball) he dearly loves.
Lizarraga can't hear the roar of the crowd or the shouts of encouragement from his teammates and fans, but he certainly felt the emotion and respect after Tuesday night's game (vs California) when a large throng of family, friends, and fans from Cal State Northridge and even Cal poured onto the court to offer him congratulations.
Lizarraga came ready to play. Returning to the Bay Area where he prepped at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont (just south of Berkeley), the senior forward enjoyed "the best game of his collegiate career." Lizarraga started his ninth collegiate career game, and he made the most of his opportunity. Competing against a tall, physical Cal frontline that captured the Pac-10 title last season, Lizarraga scored a career-high 15 points (6-for-8) from the floor, grabbed five rebounds, collected two steals and blocked a shot in 21 minutes of play.
After the game, several reporters huddled around Lizarraga to chronicle his heroic effort.
"I wanted to play tough and I wanted to really beat Cal," said Lizarraga, who offered his emotions through his interpreter, his mom Cari Lizarraga. "I wanted to show my passion for the game and show my passion to my teammates."
Mission accomplished, Michael. From the opening tipoff before a crowd of nearly 7,000 fans at Berkeley's Haas Pavilion to the ending of a 80-63 loss to the California Golden Bears, Lizarraga performed at Indy speed. As the old saying goes, "don't stop me now. I'm just getting started."
Losing doesn't sit well for Matador head coach Bobby Braswell, but watching Lizarraga enjoy a "career night" brought an emotional smile from the veteran head coach.
"I'm extremely happy for Mike," Braswell told reporters after the game. "To come home to the Bay Area and have the opportunity to play before so many family and friends ... my heart and soul are so overjoyed by Michael's performance."
Cal State Northridge refused to be bullied by another Pac-10 team (California) after last week's season opening loss at UCLA. Determined and bent on staying with the Golden Bears, the Matadors traded punches with the home team for the first 20 minutes of the game. On three occasions, Cal State Northridge held a five-point lead (27-22, 30-25, 32-27), thanks in part to some clutch three-point shooting. CSUN hit 6-of-9 shots from behind the arc, including 2-for-2 efforts each by Rashaun McLemore and Aqeel Quinn.
The Matadors led at halftime, 37-36. CSUN hit 53 percent from the floor. The pro-Cal crowd of nearly 7,000 fans sensed an upset was in the making.
But basketball is a 40-minute game, and head coach Bobby Braswell knew California was going to step up the intensity of the game in the second half. And that's exactly what happened. Cal started hitting shots from inside and outside to the tune of 57 percent compared to only 31 percent for the Matadors.
Cal eventually forced its will in the rebounding department. Cal outrebounded Cal State Northridge, 44-27, for the game.
Final score - California 80, Cal State Northridge 63.
"This was a tale of two halves," said Braswell. "The first 20 minutes ... we played good basketball. I was really happy about that. But in the second half, I thought our mentality changed a little bit. We settled for some quick shots. Some of our early misses in the second half led to some easy scoring opportunities for them (Cal). This was a typical example of a young basketball team. We played a great first half, but instead of building on that, we changed our whole mind set in the second half. We knew Cal was going to up the level of the game in the second half. We needed to keep pace but we didn't."
Like Lizarraga, Rashuan McLemore enjoyed a career night. McLemore tallied a career-high 24 points (9-for-15) along with a team-high six rebounds and two steals in a reserve role.
The Matadors have their home opener at the The Matadome on Saturday, November 20, against Vanguard University. Game time is 2:00 p.m.
Matador Memo ...
California was 31-of-50 from the free throw line ... CSUN was 9-of-16 ... The Matadors were whistled for 37 fouls compared to 19 for the Golden Bears.