Sophomore wing David Nwaba is second on the team in scoring, averaging 11.5 points per game.
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The road hasn’t been kind to the Cal Poly men’s basketball team as of late. The Mustangs are coming off a four-game losing streak in their latest road swing, which featured two separate trips to the East Coast and a game with a Stanford team that knocked off then-No. 10 UCONN earlier in the season.
However, Cal Poly returns to the friendly confines of Mott Athletics Center (MAC) on Thursday to face Hawaii in its Big West Conference opener and looks to return to its winning ways.
“We knew going into it a year ago that we had scheduled a monster road trip with four games on the road,” head coach Joe Callero said. “Obviously when you line up teams with the caliber of Pittsburgh, Stanford and Loyola Marymount … we knew we would definitely be in over our heads, so to speak, in terms of the size, the strength and the talent.”
The Mustangs (4-9) opened the season with a 73-62 loss to then-No. 5 and current No. 1 Arizona before losing a rare home matchup to Nevada as Deonte Burton converted a traditional 3-point play with six seconds remaining for the Wolf Pack to hand Cal Poly its first loss in 13 games at Mott.
Cal Poly rallied in its second home game of the season to get its first win with a 78-39 thrashing of National Christian College Athletic Association member Bethesda before dropping two of its next three at the Global Sports Hardwood Challenge hosted by Oregon.
Cal Poly went on to win its next two games, owning victories against Santa Clara and Cal State Dominguez Hills before its latest four-game road trip spotlighted losses to LMU, Pitt, Stanford and Delaware.
“We feel like for our program, if we want to move from 150 RPI to top-100, we have to start playing top-50 or 100 teams on a regular basis,” Callero said.
The story for Cal Poly has been vastly different on its home floor than away from it under Callero. The Mustangs went undefeated in conference play a year ago and own a 14-2 overall record at Mott dating back to the beginning of last season. On top of that, they’ve won 14 straight Big West matchups at home.
“To duplicate that feat would be spectacular,” Callero said. “We would be ecstatic. We don’t expect to (be) undefeated at home, but we do expect to play very well and have a 75 percent winning percentage there.”
The Mustangs (4-9) will need some of that home cooking to curb their most recent skid and will look to use a familiar formula for success at the MAC.
“The defense is the key to winning, so I think we need to step it up on defense a little bit more,” sophomore wing David Nwaba said. “We need to be more aggressive and do what we do on offense to come out with the win.”
Nwaba averages 11.5 points per game, second on the team behind senior forward Chris Eversley, and has shot a team-high 60.6 percent from the field entering the Hawaii matchup. The Santa Monica College transfer is tied for the team lead with eight double-digit scoring games.
Meanwhile, the Warriors (11-3) enter Thursday’s game having won four straight, but are largely untested off the islands as they’ve only played two road games so far, matchups in which they are 1-1.
They average 82 points per game, good enough for 27th in the NCAA as of Monday, and are led by preseason All-Big West selection Christian Standhardinger who averages 17.3 points per contest.
“They have a good inside game established,” Callero said. “They have a very good balance. They’ve got a crafty, good point guard who can score, an athletic two guard and a great shooter in (Garrett) Nevels … They’re as good as anybody in the conference. We’re going to have to play a great Cal Poly game on our home floor to knock them off to start conference off.”
The schedule won’t get any easier after Thursday as the Mustangs will travel south to face rival UC Santa Barbara on Saturday. The Gauchos, who feature Alan Williams and his Big West-leading 23.5 points per game, posted the second-best non-conference record of any Big West team this season, behind only Hawaii.
But with three of its first four games coming at home along with its tough non-conference schedule in the rearview mirror, Cal Poly will have a good chance to buck its longest losing streak in three years.
“We’ve played some tough teams in preseason games, but playing those high-major teams will help us in this mid-major conference.” Nwaba said.