Mustang News Staff Report
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The Big West basketball tournament brackets are set.
The Cal Poly women’s basketball team is the No. 3 seed, while the men’s basketball team is in a familiar place as the No. 7 seed.
The women’s side (15-13, 10-6 Big West Conference) rallied from a tough nonconference schedule to put together a strong Big West campaign. The Mustangs’ wins were highlighted by home victories over first-place Hawaii and second-place and defending Big West champion Cal State Northridge. In addition, Cal Poly defeated Long Beach State on the road in overtime on Valentine’s Day. The 49ers entered conference play with a 13-1 record but were unable to keep the hot streak alive in Big West play, going 9-7 and securing the No. 4 seed.
The three seniors on the squad have propelled the Mustangs throughout the season. Guards Ariana Elegado and Kristen Ale, complemented by forward Taryn Garza, have led the young side to the third-best record in the Big West.
Elegado leads the team with 15.2 points per game and 136 assists and 42 steals on the season. Her leadership and experience will prove vital to the Mustangs’ success in the Big West Tournament.
Ale and Garza have come into their own in their final season. Garza has continued her hounding of the glass, averaging 7.7 rebounds per game while adding 7.9 points per contest as well. Ale has added consistency in the backcourt, scoring 9.7 points per game.
The Mustangs begin tournament play Wednesday at 6 p.m. against the lowest remaining seed of seeds No. 5-8.
The men’s squad will enter the tournament in the same position as last year when it won the championship. As the No. 7 seed, Cal Poly will rematch rival UC Santa Barbara in the first round. In their final regular season game, the Mustangs fell to the Gauchos 64-56, in addition to losing their last four games entering the tournament.
Junior guard David Nwaba is back from his bout with mononucleosis, which led to a scare of a heart condition, and hopes to return to his early-season form, which still has him leading his team with 11.8 points per game.
The emergence of junior forward Joel Awich as a defensive monster has been a revelation for the Mustangs. Awich has recorded 38 blocks in just 28 appearances, including a few games with more than three blocks while also averaging 8.6 points per game.
Last season, Cal Poly was the No. 7 seed in the Big West Tournament and won the entire thing after a string of upsets. The run included a win over Texas Southern in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the first tournament win in program history.
Cal Poly will look to replicate the run from a year ago when they tip off against the Gauchos on Thursday night. The game is set to tip off 30 minutes after the conclusion of the UC Irvine vs. UC Riverside game, which is set to start at 6 p.m.