Graig Mantle

One could argue a tremendous size disadvantage, a team-shared bug, three consecutive UC Riverside 3-pointers and nearly an eight-minute scoring drought caused the Cal Poly women’s basketball team to drop a 67-55 decision to the Highlanders at Mott Gym Saturday, but as Cal Poly senior guard Kyla Howell put it, the Mustangs “just weren’t running.”

The Cal Poly players’ body language and intensity weren’t synonymous with what one usually sees in decisive conference games midway through the season.

Were the Mustangs to win, they would have propelled themselves into second place in the Big West Conference, and to their first 6-2 conference start ever.

“I felt like the flow of the game was really stagnant,” Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “If you’re not in your flow, if you have to think and analyze things, that’s not playing basketball.”

The Mustangs, usually a quick, fast-breaking team, ran a full-court press on made baskets in hopes of countering the Highlanders’ size advantage. As Mimnaugh said, “It’s hard to press if you don’t make the baskets, though, if that’s your strategy.”

The Mustangs were held scoreless for 7 minutes and 44 seconds midway through the game; they couldn’t get on the board from the 3:17 mark in the first half until 15:33 remained in the second.

They opened the second half on 0-for-8 shooting until Howell, who had 12 points, hit a jumper to end the famine.

“I called a timeout (in the second half) telling our kids we were giving them everything they were looking at and (Cal Poly) just didn’t make them,” UC Riverside head coach John Margaritis said.

Mimnaugh attributed the many failed shooting attempts to intimidation.

“They’re bigger than us at every single position,” she said. “We don’t do as well against people that are bigger than we are.”

But it wasn’t just a size disadvantage. In the first half, the Mustangs and the Highlanders seesawed on the scoreboard and stayed within four points of each other until about the 6-minute mark.

UC Riverside junior guard Seyram Gbewonyo, who tallied a game-high 23 points, hit three shots from behind the 3-point arc to push the Highlanders’ lead to 25-17, an advantage that was never lost.

Tainoisouti Lott, a 6-foot-2 junior forward, posed a difficult defensive assignment for the Mustangs in the post. Lott, who dropped a career-high double-double with 27 points and 13 rebounds in a loss to UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday night, posted 14 points Saturday.

“She’s just tall and athletic and she’s a nice target,” Margaritis said. “You don’t have to be perfect. You just throw it up in the air and she gets it.”

Although junior forward Lisa McBride and sophomore guard Tamara Wells, both integral offensive contributors for the Mustangs, played very few minutes due to illnesses, Mimnaugh said her team didn’t move the ball well, and had very few fast-break opportunities because of that.

“We sure made them look better than they are and we made ourselves look really poor,” she said.

At halftime, Howell said, Mimnaugh urged her team to pick up intensity.

“That’s just something you have to get from the inside,” Howell said. “That’s nothing really the coach can give you. She can just tell you about it. We didn’t do that at all.”

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