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In a disappointing Senior Night for senior guards Maliik Love and Michael Bolden, the Cal Poly men’s basketball team lost its third consecutive game in a 66-56 defeat at home against UC Davis.
The Aggies (22-5, 12-2 Big West Conference) entered the game in first place in the Big West and as the No. 1 3-point shooting team in the country.
UC Davis also has star guard Corey Hawkins, the Big West’s leading scorer with 20 points per game.
On the other hand, the Mustangs’ two consecutive losses this past week dropped them to seventh place in the conference.
To have a chance to pull an upset against the Aggies, the Mustangs (13-14, 6-9) needed a fast start.
Sophomore guard Ridge Shipley led the charge and continued his hot shooting. In his two previous games against UC Riverside and UC Irvine, Shipley totaled 15 and 20 points. Shipley started the game with back-to-back 3-pointers off of pick-and-rolls with junior forward Brian Bennett.
Lack of focus and intensity on the defensive end let the Mustang’s fast start go to waste.
Cal Poly had trouble defending the interior of its 2-3 matchup zone. The Aggies penetrated the Cal Poly defense and converted many easy layups.
“We either have a turnover or a drought and they score, and you can feel the energy lost and the disappointment,” head coach Joe Callero said. “Our team thinks a little too much. I’m trying to get our guys a little more into a primal mode, which is stop thinking and compete a little more.”
The lapse in defense allowed the Aggies to go on a run to take a 26-19 advantage with 2:51 remaining in the first half. A 3-pointer by junior forward Joel Awich on the right wing brought the Mustangs within six.
Cal Poly had multiple turnovers, leading to fast break baskets for the Aggies.
UC Davis shot an impressive 52 percent from the field in the first half on 12-for-23 shooting.
Going into halftime, the Mustangs trailed 30-22.
In the second frame, Cal Poly had no answer for Aggies senior guard Josh Ritchart.
Utilizing pump fakes and pivots in the low post, as well as a lethal 3-point shot, Ritchart scored nine straight points to extend the Aggies’ lead to 39-27 with 15:25 remaining in the second half.
Hawkins would add another transition 3-pointer to extend the Mustangs’ deficit to 15.
In order to increase the tempo and intensity for his team, Callero implemented a full-court trapping press. The increased pressure allowed Love and Awich to wreak havoc on the Aggies offense.
On one key play, Love picked Hawkins’ pocket and threw a one-handed underhand lob to a trailing Awich, who then slammed home the lob to cut the Davis lead to 47-33 with 10:19 remaining.
“I’ve never thrown an oop like that before, so that definitely has got to go down as the No. 1 assist at my time at Cal Poly,” Love said.
The highlight reel play energized the Mustangs and started a 6-0 run to close the gap to 47-37.
Sharpshooting Aggies senior guard Tyler Les responded with a deep 3-pointer from the left wing to stop the Cal Poly run and extend the lead back to 13 with 8:29 left.
The Mustangs continued to fight back. Three-pointers by Shipley and Bolden brought the Mustangs within eight points with 2:44 remaining, but the deficit was simply too large to overcome.
UC Davis cruised to a 66-56 victory, finishing the game shooting 55.8 percent on 24-for-43 shooting from the field.
“They’re a good team, good guard play, good bigs as well,” Bolden said. “The whole conference is very strong, so you got to play everybody like the best team in the conference.”
Shipley finished the game with a team-leading 16 points on 6-for-13 shooting.
Love finished his last game at Mott Athletics Center with 11 points on 5-for-9 shooting with four rebounds and four assists.
“I love Cal Poly, love the fans, love the community,” Love concluded. “It’s been a great five years, and I thank everybody for their support throughout my career.”
Cal Poly closes the 2014-15 regular season on the road at UC Santa Barbara on Saturday, March 7.
“The key is to be able to move on,” Callero concluded. “Our faces are a little numb when teams respond to us, so the No. 1 cure is rest.”