Cal Poly Men’s Basketball pulled off an 88-80 upset victory against University of Hawai’i on Saturday, Feb. 23. The victory is not only the second conference win of the season for Cal Poly, but comes after a loss to the same opponent just nine days before. Senior point guard Donovan Fields made a game-high 28 points as the team shot 14-24 from the three-point range to secure the home-court victory.
Hawai’i forward Zigmars Raimo opened the scoring with a jump shot from the field seconds into the game. However, six points from Fields within the opening three minutes propelled a 9-5 lead for Cal Poly (6-19, 2-10 Big West). After a 7-0 run by the Rainbow Warriors (16-11, 7-6 Big West), freshman forward Daxton Carr hit a deep three-pointer to even the score at 12-12.
According to head coach Joe Callero, Hawai’i is one of the best teams in the west coast when it comes to on-ball defense. As a result of Cal Poly’s 74-47 loss to UC Irvine on Feb. 21, the Mustangs were forced to make some adjustments to their attack.
“We tried to push the pace and fastbreak a little bit more,” Callero said. “If we didn’t have that, we tried to attack off the second or third pass without a screen. The third thing, we said we have to establish a post-game by throwing the ball into [Garoza], [Jaakkola] and [Hollingsworth] and letting them go one-on-one in the post. Fortunately, all those things helped us.”
From that point, the match was evened six different times until the halftime whistle was blown. With twelve combined lead changes in the first half alone, neither side could mount a lead greater than five points without the opposing team pulling themselves back within range. Field’s layup with just over a minute left in the half saw the game even at 38-38. Yet, Hawai’i converted at the last opportunity with a jump shot, concluding the first half with a 40-38 lead. In the half, Fields went 4-8 from the field for nine points. Sophomore forward Karlis Goroza and Carr each added six points.
While the Mustangs carried a deficit into halftime, senior guard Marcellus Garrick said the team never lost their confidence and energy.
“We said that if we can keep the same energy that we had in the first half, in the second half, we’d win the game,” Garrick said. “And that’s what we did.”
That energy was apparent at the start of the second half, when Garrick and Fields each knocked down three-point shots to give Cal Poly a 46-40 lead. However, Hawai’i pulled within one point on three separate occasions. A three-pointer from Brocke Stepteau brought the score to 49-50 at the 15 minute mark. One minute later, Stepteau’s layup positioned Hawai’i within one-point yet again, this time at 51-52.
A 14-5 run by Cal Poly granted them the first and only double-digit lead of the game at 66-56 with 10:00 remaining. However, the back-and-forth nature of the match stayed consistent. Hawai’i’s Samuta Avea converted a pair of free throws with just over five minutes left to bring the score within one-point for the final time. That is when Fields, Garrick and sophomore wing Mark Crowe each knocked down vital three-point shots with minutes left on the clock. After the Mustangs added two free throws from Carr and a layup from junior guard Job Alexander, the final score concluded at 88-80.
Fields said he hopes the win will serve as momentum for the Mustangs leading up to their finals set of conference games.
“It’s definitely a big win for us, especially since we’re chasing UC Riverside by three wins, so now we have two,” Fields said. “We just have to keep racking up these wins and hopefully this will give us a lot of momentum for these last couple games.”
Fields led the Mustangs with a game-high 28 points and added four assists. Garrick went 4-7 from the three-point range for 16 points. Carr followed up with 10 points off the bench for the Mustangs. By the end of the match, Cal Poly recorded season-highs in four different categories – total points, field goal percentage, three-point percentage and three-point shots converted.
Following their victory, Callero said he believes Cal Poly is capable beating anyone in the Big West Conference.
“If you work on your craft, I don’t care if you’re a musician or an artist, if you believe in your craft and you have confidence in it and you put time in it, eventually you weather the storm,” Callero said “And I think our guys weathered the storm tonight and got through the other side.”
The Mustangs are back on the road for their next match against Cal State Fullerton on Thursday, Feb. 28.