Jefferson P. Nolan
The Mustangs will have to settle for the No. 2 seed in the Big West Conference Tournament after Long Beach State brought down the Cal Poly women’s basketball team 71-58 in the last regular season matchup of the season. Despite falling short of its third consecutive Big West regular season title, the team will advance to the tournament semifinals on Friday, as the top two seeds receive two consecutive byes to begin the week.
Just before tip-off, the Mustangs (19-10, 13-5 Big West Conference) paid tribute to the five graduating seniors on the team as they hoped to extend their six-game winning streak. Cal Poly president Jeffrey Armstrong, a regular attendee at the women’s basketball games, spoke with a few of the seniors before their last game in the Mott Athletics Center.
“I caught a couple of seniors as they were about to be introduced, and it was great to see the pride and the emotion,” Armstrong said. “They love Cal Poly. They left it all out on the court.”
The game began physically as both teams clawed at each other for possession. Sophomore Ariana Elegado knocked down two 3-pointers to start the offensive effort for the Mustangs.
Defensive hustle then resulted in six turnovers for both the Mustangs and the 49ers (16-14, 9-9 Big West) with 6:23 left to play until halftime. But with every score made by Cal Poly, Long Beach State continued to chip away at the lead. The game became increasingly physical — fouls distributed left and right — as both teams fought for the ball to secure possession.
“The way that the game was being called, it was going to be very physical, and you could see that the whole way through,” head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “(Long Beach State) played a brilliant game, kept us out of the paint and had very physical play. I’m disappointed about the result, but not about the effort we put into it.”
But by halftime, senior Caroline Reeves led the Mustangs with 10 points to give her team a 32-27 lead.
“(Reeves) was the best she could be today,” Mimnaugh said. “She was outstanding. We just needed to be able to make some free throws, and we made some critical errors. Defensively, we were very average from what I’ve seen in the past.”
The second half began as Long Beach State’s Ella Clark hit a jump shot to limit Cal Poly’s lead to three points, and 49ers center Devin Hudson tied the game at 33 with another field goal. Hudson dominated the court in the second half with 14 points, and she finished the game as the leading scorer with 22 points and 20 total rebounds.
Molly Schlemer battled Hudson in the paint, but the 6-foot-3 center pressured the Cal Poly junior center and kept her from tallying any points in the first half.
Along with Hudson, the 49ers’ Alex Sanchez finished the game with 16 points. Nikol Allison and Elegado led the Mustangs with 13 points each.
“Hudson was just amazing,” Mimnaugh said. “She proved she was one of the best players in the league. She was just outstanding. It didn’t matter what we threw at her; she just answered every single time.”
And as the clock ticked down, all senior Brittany Woodard could do was cheer her team from the bench as she saw her fellow seniors (Ashley Cascio, and Kayla Griffin, Allison and Reeves) finish their last game of the regular season.
“Obviously there are so many emotions, but we’ve been in this position before and we haven’t had a close game in a while,” Woodard said. “I think we played a little timid, but it doesn’t mean anything at this point. We have the tournament coming up and we will learn from our mistakes.”