The Cal Poly women’s basketball team advanced to the quarterfinals of the Big West Conference Tournament in Irvine with a 72-51 victory against CSUN Tuesday night. But in their quarterfinal matchup against conference No. 3 Long Beach State, the Mustangs lost 54-52 on a last-second jumperafter letting their lead slip away in the second half.
Tuesday’s win was one of the Mustangs’ most dominant defense performances of the season, and the effort carried over into the game against Long Beach State. Cal Poly (15-16, 7-10 Big West) held the 49ers (25-7, 13-4) to just 6-of-23 shooting from the field in the first half and 24 total points, a strong effort against a team that averages 63 points per game.
Sophomore guard Dynn Leaupepe, the star with 30 points against CSUN on Tuesday, scored 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting and added four rebounds and four assists. Senior guard Beth Balbierz, in her final game as a Mustang, had a game-high 17 points along with six rebounds before fouling out.
Cal Poly raced out to an early 18-11 lead after the first quarter and went into halftime up 26-24. However, the third quarter spelled trouble for the Mustangs.
Long Beach State dropped 19 points in the third quarter, turning a two-point deficit into a three-point lead. The Mustangs clawed back and tied the game up with 19 seconds to go in the game, but 49ers guard Raven Benton hit a fadeaway 18-footer with 0.6 seconds left to win it.
As a team, Cal Poly’s performance against Long Beach State in the quarterfinals was better than the five and 12-point losses to the 49ers in the regular season. The Mustangs controlled the paint, outscoring the 49ers 28-20 in the lane, and held a 36-31 advantage in rebounding despite junior forward Hannah Gilbert playing through a lower leg injury. But after committing a season-low four turnovers against the Matadors on Tuesday night, the Mustangs turned the ball over 18 times and allowed 18 points from turnovers alone.
This postseason run, though not as deep as many are used to in head coach Faith Mimnaugh’s time at the helm, could be considered a success for the team considering how many starters graduated last year and Gilbert’s injury towards the end of this season.
With Gilbert returning for her senior season and Leaupepe continuing her torrid scoring since the beginning of February, there’s much to look forward to in the future of Cal Poly women’s basketball. There should be no doubt they’ll be back in the playoffs next year with a shot at the later rounds of the Big West Tournament.