The Big West Conference honored Cal Poly men’s senior guard Lorezo Keeler and Cal Poly women’s forward Kristina Santiago with player of the week accolades Monday.
Keeler has helped lead the Mustangs to a 2-1 Big West record, while also putting forth a career-high 38 point effort in the opening week of the conference play. For the season the senior is averaging 15.4 points per game, 1.9 rebounds and shoots 88 percent from the line.
In the three games last week, Keeler averaged 26 points, making 60 percent of his shots from the floor and 46 percent of his three pointers. He was 24-40 from the field and 10 of 22 from long range. He made 20 of 22 from the line.
“It feels good,” Keeler said. “The Big West is a great conference and to be named player of the week out of all these athletes (in the Big West) — it’s a big honor.”
Despite already leading the team in scoring through non-conference play, Keeler decided to refine his game and become an effective slasher heading into last week’s contests.
“I wanted to come out these last couple of games and attack the basket, get to the hoop and make the defense play defense… A lot of good things can happen (when you attack the rim),” Keeler said. “You get higher percentage shots, you get fouled, go to three free-throw line, knock free throws down and when the team collapses you can dish. Then I let my outside shot come after I get a little warm.”
Keeler led the Mustangs to a 95-81 win over UC Irvine in the conference opener on the road. Keeler scored a career-high 38 points when he hit 12 of 18 shots from the floor and 6 of 11 from beyond the arc. His all-around performance in the game included four rebounds, three assists and a block. Keeler did not miss a shot at the line, sinking all eight attempts.
“A lot of my success these last couple of games is because (we’re) being successful running the offense, being patient, staying in formation, my teammates are finding me and I’m getting good shots. Rhythm shots, wide-open shots— fortunately I’m making them,” Keeler said. “It’s a team effort.”
The Escondido native scored a team-high 18 points in the loss to conference-leading Pacific. Keeler made 5 of 10 shots from the floor and was again perfect at the line on six attempts.
“(My teammates) are making it a lot easier (for me to score),” Keeler said. “I think everybody believes in the offense now, I mean we see how much success we get out of the offense, my teammates now where I am going to be, I know where my teammates are going to be and it just makes it that much easier to make baskets.”
In the Mustangs 72-69 win over UC Davis on Sunday, Keeler led the team in scoring with 22 points, He was 7 of 12 from the field and 2 of 4 on 3-pointers. The Aggies kept the game close, but the Mustangs were able to pull out a victory.
“They went up, made a couple of runs, but we didn’t put our heads down,” Keeler said. “We know that teams are going to make runs, that’s just a part of the game, but what is most important is that if we can counter that and make our own run and fortunately we did that.”
In the game with the Aggies, Keeler missed his first free throw since Dec. 5. He had converted 27 consecutive from the line before the miss.
On the women’s side, Santiago averaged 25.0 points and 10.7 rebounds per game in Cal Poly’s opening three Big West games. The junior matched career single-game highs for points and steals last week.
Santiago, who leads all Big West players with 19.6 points per game and ranks second with 7.4 rebounds and a 54.5 percent field goal mark, scored 19 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and converted a career-best 11 free throw attempts to help key Cal Poly’s 73-61 conference-opening victory against UC Irvine on Jan. 4. Santiago then notched her third double-double of the season with 27 points and a career-high 13 rebounds during Cal Poly’s 63-53 victory at Pacific on Jan. 7.
Santiago attributes her individual performance to the way her team is performing around her.
“We play really good team basketball,” Santiago said. “My team is always looking for me and vice-versa, I am always looking for them to kick it back out and they know that. So, I think when we play, we have really good chemistry on the court and they are able to find me.”
Head coach Faith Mimnaugh says that Santiago is more than just a point and rebound contributor night in and night out, she says is just as much as a team leader as she is a point scorer.
“(She is a) player that allows other players to shine as well,” Mimnaugh said. “Everybody believes in her… She has so much say in the locker room and on the court. They believe in her, what she says is gold.”
During the opening week of Big West play, Santiago shot 51.9 (28-for-54) percent from the floor, 82.6 percent from the free throw line and also paced all Mustangs with 75 total points, 32 rebounds, nine steals and four blocks.
Santiago, who has reached double-digit scoring figures during all 14 of Cal Poly’s games this year and led the Mustangs in scoring 11 times, requires just 23 additional points to become the ninth player in program history to score 1,000 during a career.
Off to the program’s best overall start in five seasons, Mimnaugh’s team (9-5, 2-1) hosts Big West-leading Cal State Fullerton (8-8, 4-0) inside Mott Gym at 7 p.m. Thursday. Cal Poly’s men’s basketball team travels on the road to take on Cal State Fullerton Thursday night as well.
Brian De Los Santos contributed to this article.