Sophomore forward Hannah Gilbert had a breakout game in the Mustangs' conference-opening win over Hawaii. | Ian Billings/Mustang News

Erik Chu
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The Cal Poly women’s basketball team (6-7, 1-0 Big West Conference) won its conference opener against Hawaii (8-6, 0-1) with a 70-65 victory Thursday night at Mott Athletics Center.

Sophomore forward Hannah Gilbert had the game of her life.

She played the entire game and finished with a career-high 18 points and six rebounds.

“I’ve been working hard the entire season before and after practice on my low post skills,” Gilbert said. “I’m just glad that I was able to help my team get the victory tonight.”

“We needed Hannah for all 40 minutes tonight,” head coach Faith Mimnaugh added. “She played intelligent basketball, obviously made her shots, and going forward, we’re going to need her. She’s getting better and better and the sky’s the limit.”

The Mustangs started the game shooting a scorching 7-of-14 from the field, featuring the dynamic pick-and-roll combination of Gilbert and senior guard Ariana Elegado.

The fast start propelled the Mustangs to an early 15-11 advantage.

Elegado was the maestro on the court, making all the right decisions and showcasing her playmaking abilities.

Coming off the pick-and-roll, Elegado would either pull up for a shot or dish it to a cutting Gilbert when the defense collapsed on her.

“Hannah’s one of the best finishers on our team,” Elegado said. “We knew Hawaii was going to help out on our shooters on the perimeter and that Hannah was going to be open. I always trust her, and she did a great job tonight.”

Sophomore guard Briana Harris provided a spark off the bench for Hawaii by hitting back-to-back three-pointers to notch the game up at 17.

However, after strong starts, both teams struggled from the field the remaining of the half.

The Mustangs would go on to shoot just 2-of-12 from the field at the end of the first half, shooting 34 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes

Similarly, Hawaii finished the half on 28 percent shooting.

Going into halftime, the score was deadlocked at 29.

For the Mustangs, the lack of scoring was not because of lockdown defense by Hawaii, but many self-inflicted errors. They missed many open layups and could not create any separation.

In the second half, the Mustangs came out much more focused and played a cleaner game of basketball. They converted the majority of their easy baskets and shot a much better 43 percent from the field.

Once again, the combination of Elegado and Gilbert would lead the Mustangs.

On one key play, Elegado’s defender went under Hannah Gilbert’s screen, and Elegado made her pay by pulling up for a huge three-pointer. Elegado celebrated with the “Cash Money” hand gesture, and the momentum immediately shifted to the Mustangs’ advantage.

The basket ended a 6-0 Hawaii run and brought the Mustangs within one, trailing 35-34. The Mustangs continued the momentum and pounded Hawaii inside.

Cal Poly finished the game with a 36-16 advantage in the paint.

A scrappy Hawaii squad would claw its way back to trail 62-60 with only 4:18 remaining.

Cal Poly sophomore forward Rachel Koehler would come up huge with three straight tough, contested layups in the post, including one bucket that just nearly beat the shot clock.

The key baskets by the reserve forward would put the Mustangs up 68-60 and would seal the victory.

“This is a huge victory,” Elegado said. “Conference play is so important, and this victory just gives us momentum for the rest of the season.”

Elegado finished with a team-high 19 points, eight assists and five rebounds.

The Mustangs will travel to face UC Santa Barbara on Saturday at 2 p.m.

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