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Led by a trio of double-doubles from sophomore center Hannah Gilbert, freshman wing Dynn Leaupepe and senior guard Ariana Elegado, the Cal Poly women’s basketball team (14-12, 9-5 Big West Conference) earned a key 68-52 victory on the road against UC Davis (13-12, 8-5).
Entering Thursday night’s contest trailing UC Davis by half a game in the Big West Conference standings, the Mustangs had a golden opportunity to solidify their position as a legitimate conference champion contender with a victory.
A strong first half allowed the Mustangs to control the majority of the opening 20 minutes. The Mustangs used their strongest weapon, the 3-point shot, to distance themselves from the Aggies.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Elegado and senior guard Kristen Ale put the Mustangs up 24-13 with 6:51 remaining in the first.
Gilbert also had a strong first half for the Mustangs. Matched up against one of the best post players in the conference, the Aggies’ Alyson Doherty, Gilbert did not back down from the challenge and outplayed Doherty.
Gilbert finished the game with 14 points on 7-for-13 shooting and 10 rebounds.
Gilbert remains the conference leader in field goal percentage, shooting 52.6 percent from the field.
“Doherty is one of the best post players in the conference,” Gilbert said. “I’m a competitive person, and I looked at it as a challenge to go up against her. I wanted to be aggressive down low and make [Doherty] work on the defensive end.”
Gilbert’s jumper with 4:34 remaining in the first half pushed the Mustangs’ lead to 29-19.
Going into halftime, the Mustangs enjoyed a comfortable 29-22 lead.
In the second half, the Mustangs continued their excellent focus and intensity, dominating the final 20 minutes.
Leaupepe showcased her athleticism by exploding on offense in the second half. Her 3-point play a couple of minutes into the second set the tone for the Mustangs, as they extended the advantage to 34-24.
Leaupepe would finish the game with a team-leading 16 points on an efficient 6-for-12 shooting, along with 10 rebounds.
The remainder of the game would be Elegado’s show. Her 3-pointer with 9:37 remaining gave the Mustangs their largest lead of the game at 55-34.
She finished the game with 15 points, 10 assists and four steals.
The Mustangs cruised to a comfortable 68-52 victory, finishing the game shooting 43 percent from the field.
The Mustangs were equally as impressive on the defensive end, holding the high-scoring Aggies to 30 percent shooting.
“Our defense was simply incredible,” head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “Our intensity on the defensive end disrupted their offense and caused bad shots for them. Our attention to detail closing out on shooters and keeping our hands up in the passing led to one of our best defensive performances in the season.”
The Mustangs also dominated the boards with a 50-27 rebounding edge. Fifteen of those rebounds came on the offensive end, leading to extra possessions and more scoring opportunities for the Mustangs.
“Rebounding was one of the key things we went over in our game plan,” Mimnaugh said. “We wanted to hit them in the mouth with our aggressiveness on the offensive boards, and we executed.”
One concerning number for the Mustangs is the number of turnovers committed. They had 22 turnovers, but Mimnaugh said she isn’t worried.
“A lot of teams in this conference flop against us,” Mimnaugh said. “We’re posting up hard down low, and teams are just flopping. I’m not concerned with the turnovers because the majority of them are us just playing harder than them.”
The victory propelled the Mustangs ahead of the Aggies into a second-place tie with Cal State Northridge (19-9, 9-5).
Cal Poly next travels to UC Irvine for a 2 p.m. tip-off Saturday in Bren Events Center.
“Nobody had confidence in us before the season, so this game really showed our haters that we’re for real,” Gilbert said. “This gives us momentum into the postseason, but we have to take care of our remaining regular season games before looking ahead.”