On Saturday, March 9, Cal Poly Men’s Basketball was defeated by UC Santa Barbara 92-82 in their final game of the 2018-19 season. The loss placed Cal Poly in last place in the Big West Conference. As a result, the Mustangs will miss the Big West Tournament for the first time since 2009. Donovan Fields, Marcellus Garrick and Kuba Niziol, Cal Poly’s three graduating seniors, registered the three highest point-totals for Cal Poly in their last appearance as Mustangs. The loss also stands as Joe Callero’s last game as the Men’s Basketball head coach.
The Mustangs (6-23, 2-14 Big West) and the Gauchos (21-9, 10-6 Big West) stayed close throughout the first ten minutes of the match as the lead changed on five separate occasions. Sophomore forward Karlis Goroza put the Mustangs on the scoreboard with an early jump-shot from the field. Thirty seconds later, a three-pointer by senior forward Kuba Niziol granted Cal Poly their first lead at 5-4. After the Gauchos leveled the score at 7-7, Niziol responded with a jump-shot followed by his second three-pointer for a 12-7 Cal Poly lead. A free-throw by UC Santa Barbara’s Sow Amadou at 12:44 leveled the score for a second time at 16-16. However, the Gauchos would go on to retain the lead for the rest of the game following an 8-2 scoring drive. UC Santa Barbara eventually carried a 50-38 lead into halftime.
Cal Poly outscored the Gauchos 44-42 in the second half, but the effort was too little to overcome the first half deficit of 12 points. The Mustangs reduced their deficit to single-digits twice during the last two minutes of the game. A pair of free-throws from sophomore wing Mark Crowe brought the score to 86-77 at 2:25. Thirty seconds later, a three-pointer by senior point guard Donovan Fields brought the Mustangs even closer at 88-80. UC Santa Barbara went on to convert four free-throws for a 92-80 lead before the final play of the game.
With seconds remaining, Crowe registered a defensive rebound before finding Fields on a breakaway down the court. As Fields drove towards the hoop, the point guard tossed the ball into the air for senior guard Marcellus Garrick to receive. With a Gaucho defender on his side, Garrick caught the ball and slammed it into the net for a massive alley-oop. The play brought the crowd to their feet in applause as the game drew to its 92-82 conclusion.
After the game, Garrick said he did not know he even made the dunk.
“I just heard everybody yelling,” Garrick said. “I thought they called a foul, because [UC Santa Barbara] fouled me and everybody was going crazy. They told me [the dunk] was crazy too, but I have to see it on replay. I haven’t seen it yet.”
As the final whistle was blown, Cal Poly’s three seniors embraced each other in the center of Mott Athletics Center one last time. Fields registered a team-high performance of 23 points after going 7-18 from the field and 6-6 from the free-throw line. In the loss, Fields also became the first player in program history to amass 1,000 points, 300 assists and 100 steals. Garrick added 18 points and six rebounds while Niziol totaled 14 points.
Following Field’s last appearance for the Mustangs, the all-time leading free-throw scorer said there was no better way to go out.
“I know each and every person that stepped on the court gave it their all,” Fields said. “It didn’t have to come out the way we wanted it to, but everyone gave it their best effort.”
Callero, in his final post-game interview with Cal Poly, said his feeling was one of pride for accomplishing his dream.
“My dream was to coach a Division I team in paradise,” Callero said. “I got to live on the Central Coast for ten years at a high-academic school with great student-athletes […] This has been a dream. It’s been a dream ride and a dream place. This was home for ten years.”