Nick Camacho

For the Cal Poly men’s basketball team, it all comes down to this weekend – win two games in a row and reach the NCAA Tournament.

And although the Mustangs are not looking ahead to a potential appearance in Saturday night’s Big West Conference Tournament title game, the thought of reaching March Madness for the first time since moving to the Division I level in 1994-95 is tantalizing.

“We definitely talk about it,” Cal Poly senior forward Tyler McGinn said. “We’d be silly not to talk about it. Everyone wants to do it. It’s everyone’s goal. It comes up here and there, but we also know that we’re still two games away and we have to win both those games to get there, so we know what we have to do.

“It’s a very exciting feeling. I think about it on a daily basis, to be honest. This is my last chance. There’s not going to be another chance in my life to do something like this, as player, at least, and I’ve definitely been thinking about it a lot and wanted to do it since I was little. It would be great for the program and the community. Everybody in the town would remember it for a long time.”

Cal Poly has already had a season to remember.

The Mustangs (18-10, 9-5 Big West) have secured a Division I record for wins in a season, clinched a winning season for the first time since 2002-03, have their best Big West winning percentage ever and their best record since going 19-8 at the Division II level in 1991-92.

And they enter the postseason winning seven straight – their longest such stretch since opening the 1991-92 season 7-0 – and 12 of their last 14 games.

But Cal Poly knows all those numbers will be diminished if this weekend ends in disappointment.

“You get tired of middle-of-the-road stuff,” Cal Poly head coach Kevin Bromley said. “We’ve got to get to the (NCAA) Tournament.”

To get there, the Mustangs will have to beat one of the teams seeded Nos. 3-7 in the semifinal round at 9 p.m. Friday on ESPNU. That team is likely to be third-seeded Cal State Fullerton – which Cal Poly split with during the regular season – and also could be fourth-seeded UC Santa Barbara, No. 5 UC Irvine, No. 6 Cal State Northridge or No. 7 Pacific.

Regardless of who reaches the title game, it will be televised at 8 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2.

Cal Poly leaves for the Anaheim Convention Center Arena today. While the bottom six teams beat each other up Wednesday and today, the Mustangs have been practicing in the cozy confines of Mott Gym.

“My focus was on getting second place in league so we could get that extra bye, which was huge for us,” Cal Poly senior forward Derek Stockalper said of last Saturday’s 82-70 Senior Day win over Pacific. “It’s not the last game of my career. I plan on having a few more.”

In the game, one of Stockalper’s teeth went through his lower lip during the second half. He then left the game momentarily before coming back in with the split lip surrounded by gauze and a makeshift strap to throw down a game-clinching, one-handed slam dunk on a fast break that sent the sellout crowd of 3,032 into a frenzy.

“After the game, I just went over to the emergency room and got stitched up,” Stockalper said. “. Chaz (Thomas) got that steal. I wasn’t going to dunk it, but I jumped and realized I was way higher than I normally jump. I figured, ‘you know what,’ I might as well try (to dunk). It happened so fast. The reaction afterward was awesome. I couldn’t even hear myself think. It was good fun.”

Cal Poly hopes that kind of environment – loud, face-painted Mustang Maniacs and all – translates to Anaheim.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mustangs this season returned seven of their eight players who played in last year’s Big West tourney semifinal loss to Pacific.

“I think (last year) was a good experience for all the guys involved, for freshmen and now sophomores this year,” Stockalper said. “They know what the atmosphere’s like.”

Like last season, Cal Poly looks to use one of its best offensive strengths – 3-point shooting – to its advantage in Anaheim.

The Mustangs were 16 for 43 from 3-point range in last year’s tournament and shot a clip of .397 this regular season.

“I think a lot of it is just knowing where your shots are going to come in the offense and having confidence to make them,” McGinn said of the team’s hot 3-point shooting. “Once people start seeing others do it, they want to get in on the fun. It snowballs from there. We shoot well in practice and that’s carrying over into games, obviously.”

Among players with at least 25 attempts from beyond the arc, Cal Poly has six shooting .327 or better, including Stockalper (.500) and McGinn (.436).

At the end of the day, the Mustangs are not concerned as much with who they will play in the semifinal round as how they themselves play.

“Play to your strengths, not your opponent’s weaknesses,” Bromley said.

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