Brian De Los Santos
Head coach Joe Callero wants to make sure things remain in perspective.
While his team is coming off what he calls the best win in his Cal Poly career, the Mustangs are working toward staying grounded. The team defeated its second Pac-12 opponent in just as many seasons, but — overall — the biggest storyline of the season remains the same.
There are still 24 games left in the year.
So as Cal Poly moves past a signature win for the program, Callero wants to make sure it becomes a stepping stone, not a ceiling.
“You can’t get altitude sickness; if you get too excited about something, you start to lose perspective of things,” Callero said. “But the guys should enjoy it, I’ve got a permanent grin on my face right now.”
That’s because in Cal Poly’s 70-68 win over No. 11 UCLA on Sunday, the Mustangs erased an 18-point deficit in the final 12 minutes of play to grab their final advantage of the night. Junior guard Kyle Odister sank two free throws with 12 seconds left to put the Mustangs up and UCLA’s Jordan Adams tried a potential game-winning 3-pointer from the corner as time expired, but missed to give the Mustangs (2-2) a win against the Bruins for the first time in six meetings.
“I’ve been getting phone calls from so many different people, friends and family that I haven’t heard from for years,” assistant coach Sam Kirby said. “When they went up 18, it really didn’t feel like they were up 18, it felt like they were up six, to be honest. It just showed our guys have a lot of will power and they are not going to quit.”
The win has circulated through the Cal Poly community. The team received so many emails and text messages that a few players held a contest on the three-hour bus ride coming back from Los Angeles to see who would get the most. The win also made its rounds through major media outlets and a few are calling it one of the biggest wins in Cal Poly athletics Division I history, being that it’s the only time in program history the Mustangs have defeated a nationally ranked opponent.
“It’s different,” forward Chris Eversley said. “We have a lot of older guys on the team and we were happy we were finally able to get that done.”
The team certainly showed so on the court.
“It was nuts; it was crazy,” Kirby said. “Our guys were jumping around like we won the championship. It’s what it felt like, even though it was one game.”
In that game, the Mustangs shot 32 percent in the first half, 27 percent from behind the 3-point arc to make it a 29-27 deficit at the break. The Bruins, however, came out firing in the second frame extending their halftime lead to 51-33 with 12:21 to go in the game.
But Cal Poly came roaring back with three 3-pointers from senior guard Dylan Royer, named Big West Player of the Week on Monday, in a span of three minutes that ignited the Mustangs offense late in the game. He led all scorers with 18 on the night — all coming from a career-high six 3-point shots.
Odister added 15 points off the bench and sealed the historic win by going 3 of 4 from the free-throw line in the final 35 seconds.
“You could almost kind of sense it,” Royer said. “The crowd got real quiet. Their coaches started to get a little more agitated, we started to get more confident and it definitely seemed like were the confident ones down the stretch.”
That showed in the box score. Freshman forward Brian Bennett had another standout game as he racked up 16 points and four rebounds in his first game against a Pac-12 opponent.
Eversley contributed a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) as he played 39 of the 40 minutes in the win and was one of four Mustangs to score 15 points or more.
“It helps build the program,” Callero said. “This is the second time we’ve played UCLA, and we’re starting to feel more comfortable in these larger arenas, more comfortable in front of 8-10,000 fans and playing great players. It doesn’t define us as a team, but it defines us for the night.”
Cal Poly held UCLA freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad to 15 points and 10 rebounds in his highly anticipated home debut. Muhammad was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and is already being considered as the No. 1 pick in next year’s NBA Draft.
It’s just a small taste of what Cal Poly will face in the upcoming weeks. The Mustangs will face three regular season conference champions during the next two weeks. They’ll travel to Saint Mary’s (West Coast Conference), Nevada (Western Athletic Conference) and Washington (Pac-12).
That’s why Callero said the Mustangs need to keep this win in perspective. That, however, doesn’t mean they can’t celebrate for now.
“It’s a great night in the history of Cal Poly,” Callero said. “We beat a very, very good nationally ranked historic program, but that hopefully doesn’t define our whole season or our whole career.
“The bottom line is, I hope we can turn it into something. We want to enjoy the win but we want to use it as a trampoline for the program. We hope it leads to more success in all areas.”