After a 76-70 victory against CSUN at home Thursday night, Cal Poly men’s basketball team pushed their win streak to three. The streak came to an end Saturday against UCSB, as the Mustangs lost their regular season finale 57-44.
The Mustangs found themselves behind 14-5 four and a half minutes into the game. On the other end of the floor, the Matadors connected with the net early, making six of their first eight shots.
Men’s basketball head coach Joe Callero called a timeout to stop the run. The Mustangs came back on the floor making a 13-5 run to narrow the deficit. With 8:35 left in the first half, the Mustangs were up 19-18.
With 3:45 to play before the half, the Mustangs regained the lead 26-24 after senior guard Ridge Shipley dropped in a reverse layup. Shipley was one of four Mustangs to score in the double digits, leading the team with 17 points.
Two minutes later the Matadors’ Darin Johnson drilled a contested three from the corner to tie the game at 28. Senior forward Zach Gordon transitioned from a dunk to blocking a CSUN shot to secure a 30-28 Mustang lead heading into halftime.
“My whole mindset is dunk everything that you can and then protect the rim,” Gordon said. “I was just in the right place at the right time.”
After halftime, the game’s intensity heated up. Shipley was fouled hard on a transition layup attempt with 14:26 to play, his body awkwardly slamming to the floor. He laid on the floor momentarily before getting up to shoot his free-throws. Shipley came out of the game after splitting his two attempts from the line, but returned to the game five minutes later.
The Mustangs advanced their lead through the ball work of sophomore point guard Donovan Fields. Just before the six-minute mark, Fields stripped the ball away on defense before faking out a defender on his way to an uncontested layup, giving the Mustangs a 54-45 lead.
“It’s two on one and the guy’s just standing there, so I just tried to be creative and make something out of it,” Fields said. “It just happened, I didn’t really think about it. That’s what I do in the park back at home.”
On their next possession, Fields lobbed an alley-oop to redshirt freshman forward Hank Hollingsworth to push the Mustangs’ lead to 11, their biggest of the night.
According to Callero, Fields’ play was made possible because of Shipley’s consistency on the floor.
“Ridge is the steak of the team right now; Donovan is the dessert,” Callero said. “He’s tasty, he’s got flavor and he’s fun to watch. He makes plays, comes up with steals and charges, makes shots, but I think he’s able to do that because we have that stability in Ridge.”
The Matadors fought back to bring the game within single digits, but the Mustangs converted their free throw attempts and secured the victory.
The Mustangs’ seventh consecutive loss to UCSB (5-22, 3-12) came on senior night, where three seniors — Shipley, guard Kyle Toth and Gordon — were honored before tip off.
Already eliminated from the Big West Conference tournament, the Gauchos had nothing to lose.
“They were playing for the ability to upset Cal Poly in their home court in the last game of the year,” Callero said.
The Gauchos opened up the scoring two minutes in and didn’t let up the entire game.
“They came out and punched us in the face,” junior forward Luke Meikle said. “It’s hard to play make-up ball, especially when you’re not making shots.”
Fields, led with 10 points, knocked in two shots from beyond the arc to answer the Gauchos’ early scoring. Fields’ response wasn’t enough, as the Gauchos regained the lead.
Shipley’s three-pointer brought the Gauchos’ lead down to 27-23. That score remained over the final four minutes of the half.
“Credit them for sticking with it and really having a nice tight zone,” Callero said. “We had seven assists and 12 turnovers. You can’t beat a zone [defense] with that.”
A steal by junior guard Victor Joseph 30 seconds into the second half led to a jump shot by Meikle, creating a two point deficit for the Mustangs at the top of the half. However, with 12 minutes left in the game, the Gauchos were leading by 16 points.
With 6:30 remaining, a second steal by Joseph and a defensive board by Gordon cut the Guacho lead in half, making it 49-41.
The Mustangs’ efforts were not enough, as the Gaucho’s maintained a lead over the final stretch of the game.
Overall, the Mustangs only made 25 percent of their beyond the arc attempts and 30.5 percent of shots on the field.
“It’s pretty deflating, not everything goes your way,” Shipley said. “It’s part of the game, and it’s how you react to it.”
For the first time under Callero, the Mustangs had zero free throw attempts.
“I can’t remember coaching a game in my life where we never took a free throw,” Callero said.
This loss places Cal Poly in the seventh seed for the Big West Conference Tournament, where they will face off against second seed UC Davis in Anaheim on Thursday at noon.
Despite the upset, Callero is hopeful for the upcoming tournament.
“At one point we were 0-5 in conference play. A lot of teams pack it in there,” Callero said. “This team, with Shipley’s leadership, Gordon’s consistency and effort, Toth’s laser like focus… they just bounce back.”