Ian Billings/Staff Photographer

David Nwaba scored 11 points in Cal Poly’s victory over UC Santa Barbara in the quarterfinals of the Big West Conference Tournament on Thursday.

Jacob Lauing
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Third time’s the charm.

Facing rival UC Santa Barbara for the third time this season, the Cal Poly basketball team came out on top, 69-38, in the Big West Conference Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday.

Cal Poly — which entered the contest an even 1-1 against UC Santa Barbara on the year — posted the team’s largest margin of victory in its conference tournament history.

“Santa Barbara is an excellent team that earned that No. 2 seed and came up six days ago and beat us in our home court,” head coach Joe Callero said. “We didn’t expect this, we just knew that we had to improve about ten percent in about ten areas.”

The Gauchos were quick to remind Cal Poly of their 71-55 triumph in Mott Gym five days prior, jumping out to a 7-0 lead. But Cal Poly answered back with a 7-0 run of its own, and controlled the pace of the game.

Junior forward Anthony Silvestri sank a 3-pointer nine minutes into the first half and gave the Mustangs their first lead. Senior guards Kyle Odister and Jamal Johnson, along with sophomore forward Joel Awich, joined the party downtown, tacking on five more 3-pointers in the first half.

The Mustangs compiled a 15-0 run midway through the half, and finished the period shooting 59.3 percent from the floor and 75 percent beyond the arc.

According to Awich, Cal Poly’s No. 7 seed in the tournament is “just a number.”

“I don’t think it really says who we are,” Awich said. “We just got out there and play our hardest and that’s what we showed today. As long as we have each others backs and we know we can do it, I think we can beat anybody on any day on any court.”

A fast break-induced dunk from sophomore guard David Nwaba put an exclamation point on Cal Poly’s energy-filled first half, which concluded with a 21-point Cal Poly lead.

“I think that energy, once we caught it, was like, ‘Let’s float,’” Callero said. “Once you get ahead a little bit, the other team’s got to pressure, they’ve got to do some things to get back at you, and we were able to stay aggressive.”

Callero’s game plan all week was to keep UC Santa Barbara center Alan Williams in check. The Big West Player of the Year fouled out with seven minutes left in the second frame, squandering any thought of a UC Santa Barbara comeback.

“We feel that you can’t stop Al Williams,” Callero said. “I think he’s a future NBA player. But we wanted to make sure the game was played at a different pace, where we really went up and pressured him on the perimeter.”

Sophomore UC Santa Barbara guard Michael Bryson led the Gauchos with 19 points, while Williams had 10.

“They punked us offensively and defensively the entire game and we didn’t respond,” Bryson said. “We didn’t do anything to get back on defense, we didn’t do the things we needed to do. Our team just got punked.”

Awich, Nwaba and freshman guard Ridge Shipley each scored in the double digits, with Shipley’s 15 points leading Cal Poly.

“Statistically you don’t look at one thing that jumps out on the page,” Callero said. “If you told us that, ‘Hey, Ridge Shipley will be your leading scorer, and he’s played 21 minutes as a backup point guard and you won by thirty,’ we’d all fall out of our chairs.”

Cal Poly advances to the Big West tournament semifinals for the third consecutive year. The Mustangs will face the tournament’s highest remaining seed on Friday.

“We can be a better team for a given day,” Callero said. “Now we want to be a better team tomorrow, playing somebody. We don’t know who yet or what’s going to go on, but it’s a brand new day.”

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