In head coach Joe Callero’s first season, the Mustangs finished Big West Conference play with a 7-9 record. Though Cal Poly earned a 6th place finish in the conference, the result was a major improvement over its 2-13 last place finish the year before.
This year, the team hopes to continue moving in the same direction.
Cal Poly’s turnaround season included a 5-2 conference start and wins over tournament finalist Long Beach State and tournament champion UC Santa Barbara.
Despite one of the program’s best conference starts last season, Cal Poly finished 2-7 in its last nine conference games, including an overtime loss to UC Irvine in the last game of the regular season.
But Cal Poly showed its grit and determination, earning its first postseason victory in the Big West Tournament in three years, overcoming a 13-point second half deficit, in a 73-69 victory over UC Irvine.
Although the Mustangs defeated Long Beach State on the road in the regular season, Cal Poly was unable to reproduce the same results in the quarterfinals in a 79-69 defeat, which ended its season.
Last Thursday, the Cal Poly men’s basketball team (5-8, 0-1 Big West) had its chance to show its improvement in its conference opener in Mott Gym with a rematch against Long Beach State.
Long Beach State exploded in the final two minutes of the first half and first five minutes of the second half, scoring 23 points and holding Cal Poly to just two points in that span. The Mustangs never recovered in a 69-53 loss.
In a postgame conference, Callero said his team is good enough to compete with any team but needs to play hard through a full 40 minutes.
“We have no chance on the road without playing a full focused 40 minutes,” Callero said. “(It’s) not playing perfect basketball. We just can’t have two or three minute catastrophic breakdowns where they go on 9-0, 10-0, 11-0 runs and try to dig out of it from that point.”
The Mustangs’ loss came with mixed results.
Cal Poly saw uncharacteristic struggles from starting center Will Donahue and guard Shawn Lewis, who combined for 4 of 24 shooting. The Mustangs did, however, receive contributions from what has been a quiet bench for most of the season. Junior Jordan Lewis tallied four points on 2 of 2 shooting and freshman guard Jamal Johnson scored a career-high 12 points, on 5 of 6 shooting.
This game against Long Beach State was Cal Poly’s first home game in 29 days. The road trip included games against Loyola Marymount, UCLA, No.10 San Diego State, California and Pepperdine. Cal Poly went 1-4 during the away stretch.
Forward David Hanson, who led Cal Poly in scoring in three of the last five games, including a career-high 28 in Cal Poly’s victory over Pepperdine, said the team is looking toward their conference record now.
“We are going to take it one game at a time,” Hanson said. “We are going to compete and just try to get better and prepare ourselves for conference play.”
This year, Cal Poly was selected to finish 5th in the 2010-2011 Big West Media Poll, while UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State were selected to finish at the top of the Big West. Long Beach State returned four of its five starters, while UC Santa Barbara is returning all five starters.
Cal Poly will not get to enjoy its time home for long. The Mustangs will have to wait until Jan. 13 to play on the home court once again when the team takes on Cal State Fullerton.
The Mustangs conference schedule will continue on the road against Pacific Jan. 6 and UC Davis Jan. 8.