The Cal Poly women’s basketball team opened their 2018-2019 season with a 87-65 victory over the Academy of Art University on Tuesday in Mott Athletics Center. After trailing at the end of the first quarter, the Mustangs rallied back to a decisive lead behind senior forward Devin Stanback and freshman guard Gianna Silvestri. Art U (0-1), members of the NCAA Division II PacWest Conference, relied on just one substitute, as only six players were dressed for their first-ever match against the Mustangs (1-0).
Stanback propelled Cal Poly to an early lead by scoring the first five points of the game. However, Art U replied with an assertive 13-2 run, led by three-point shots from Josselyn Morris and Brianna Cates. Cates led the Urban Knights in points with a total of 20. The scoring run by Art U resulted in their biggest lead of the game, a six point advantage that would ultimately be shortened to just three points. The Mustangs trailed 16-19 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was critical for both teams as the score became tied on five separate occasions. While the opening three minutes of the quarter went scoreless, the momentum eventually fell to Cal Poly in the final 90 seconds of the first half. With the game at 32-31, Silvestri scored two back-to-back three-pointers within 25 seconds to give the Mustangs a seven point lead going into halftime.
Silvestri, in her first career game for Cal Poly, went 5-9 from three-point range for a total of 15 points. Although she was only on the court for nine minutes, Silvestri secured the second-highest amount of points for the Mustangs, behind Stanbacks’ 18 points.
“[Silvestri] really is a great shooter,” head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “I knew she was a good shooter, but since she’s joined our team she just continues to astound me with her percentages.”
With a seven point lead heading into the second half of the game, the Mustangs never looked back. Both teams traded threes in the opening minute of the third quarter, but Cal Poly was able to pull away once again with an 8-0 run, which included a pair of lay-ups from junior forward Alicia Roufosse.
The Mustangs continued to convert their chances to stretch their lead throughout the last quarter, but constant fouls by Cal Poly allowed the Urban Knights to go 18-31 from the free throw line. In total, the Mustangs committed 30 personal fouls compared to Art U’s 16. Cal Poly led by as many as 24 points with minutes left on the clock, but the final whistle concluded the match at 87-65.
The Mustangs’ win comes after a successful 2017-2018 season in which the team finished second in the Big West Conference and advanced to the semi-finals of the Big West Tournament. However, the program lost seven players — including six graduates and one freshmen who transferred. As a result, this year’s freshmen will become a vital component of the team.
Stanback, a returning senior for Cal Poly, said she has enjoyed stepping into a leadership role for the younger players.
“We have a lot of freshmen and a lot of personality so its been really fun getting to know them and learn their style of play,” Stanback said. “What I think is so great is that every player is different and everyone brings something to our team.”
The Mustangs will be on the road for their next four matches, starting at No. 8 Oregon State on Friday, Nov. 9. They will return to Mott Athletic Center on Nov. 23-24 to host Illinois and Pepperdine.
Looking ahead to the Mustangs’ next match against Oregon State, Mimnaugh said she is looking forward to the experience the team will gain from playing a nationally-ranked team.
“Obviously Oregon State is huge,” Mimnaugh said. “They’ve got 6’9 [and] 6’7 post players and they’re No. 8 in the country. I think it will be an incredible challenge for us, but if we can just stay focused and keep working on improving every single aspect of our game, then I think it’s going to result in a great opportunity for us to be competitive.”