Women's basketball
Senior guard Ariana Elegado was named to the All-Big West first team on Monday. | Ian Billings/Mustang News

Jesse Summers

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In a 70-68 win over UC Riverside (16-11, 7-6 Big West Conference), Cal Poly senior guard Ariana Elegado returned to form, recording 22 points, five assists and eight rebounds in a close game.

After struggling offensively over the previous few games, Elegado just needed a reminder from her team of who she is as a player.

“I had a couple meetings with coaches this week, and it definitely helped me start believing in myself again,” Elegado said. “After I stopped having confidence in myself, they just helped remind me of how great I can play.”

After falling by four points to the Highlanders last time they met, the Cal Poly women’s basketball team (13-12, 8-5) looked to attack and get ahead early. Elegado took charge, hitting a couple jump shots followed by two 3-pointers, giving her team a 22-7 lead and forcing UC Riverside to take a timeout to stop the momentum.

The Mustangs would not let up, thanks in part to their 50 percent shooting from 3-point range. Junior guard Lisa Marie Sanchez would come up big off the bench in Saturday’s matchup, knocking down all three of her 3-point attempts.

“My confidence has grown a lot over these past couple games,” Sanchez said. “With my teammates helping me, I was able to knock down a few timely shots.”

“She definitely stepped up,” Elegado added. “I always tell her to shoot because she has such a great shot. But she is a really patient person, and on offense she knows her role so when the ball gets in her hands she is ready to shoot it.”

Also stepping up and bringing some much-needed energy for the Mustangs was sophomore guard Rachel Koehler, who grabbed seven rebounds and nine points, with a couple of timely free throws in the last 20 seconds to bring her team’s lead to five.

“Defensively, she is one of the best that has come through this program,” head coach Faith Minmaugh said. “She brings a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm — and offensively, tonight, was a bonus, too.”

Part of Koehler’s defensive responsibility was to try to contain the fourth-best scorer in the nation, UC Riverside’s Brittany Crain, who averages 23.5 points per game. Despite finishing with 16 points, Crain was held to 25 percent shooting and was forced into difficult shots.

The Highlanders’ sophomore guard, Simone DeCoud, picked up some of the scoring slack with a 23-point performance of her own, but it was still not enough to take her team over the hump. In the final few minutes of the game, UC Riverside upped the defensive intensity and began picking up matchups at half court. While some turnovers were created, their excessive energy led to several fouls at the end of regulation, allowing the Mustangs to boost their lead from behind the free throw line.

“It was definitely an ugly game, but that’s why our hot start in the beginning definitely helped,” Elegado said. “We just wanted to play great defense and focus on stopping their 3-point shooting.”

Cal Poly will now hit the road for two away games against UC Davis and UC Irvine before heading back to Mott Athletics Center for its final home game of the regular season against UC Santa Barbara.

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