Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams were eliminated in the first round of each Big West Tournament this week. The women’s team lost 71-50 to Hawaii and the men’s team lost 66-55 to UC Davis.
Senior forward Hannah Gilbert’s game-high 26 points solidified her ranking at sixth in scoring and rebounding, but wasn’t enough to secure a victory for Cal Poly (11-18, 7-9 Big West) in the first round at Walter Pyramid Tuesday night.
Gilbert made her veteran presence known immediately as she opened up the scoring for the Mustangs with two baskets on offense and a block on the other end. However, the Warriors converted more of their possessions to points and lead the whole first quarter, ending the first 10 minutes up 13-8.
Senior forward Amanda Lovely got the lid off the basket in the second quarter, driving for a layup after a pump fake and drawing a foul. She made a free throw to bring the Mustangs within two points of the Warriors.
Junior guard Lynn Leaupepe grabbed a defensive rebound that led to another basket by Gilbert, who continued her hot streak with three more jumpers in the next three minutes to help the struggling Mustangs.
Lynn put in a pair of free throws to make it a four-point game, but the Mustangs were shut down for the rest of the quarter and went into halftime down 28-21.
After the break, Gilbert started Cal Poly’s scoring once again with a layup to open the third quarter. Both defenses clamped down from there, with no points scored for the next two minutes.
With seven minutes left in the third quarter, junior guard Dynn Leaupepe finally got on the scoresheet with a traditional three-point play, cutting the Mustang deficit to six.
But the Warriors continued to dominate the quarter, outscoring the Mustangs by seven and holding a 51-37 lead going into the final quarter. The teams traded baskets in the first three minutes, but the Mustangs were unable to gain any momentum. The Warriors continued to outpace the Mustangs, leading by as much as 22 with a minute-and-a-half remaining.
Though the Mustangs had an incredible 40-8 advantage in points in the paint, the Warriors knocked down 10 of their 22 shots from three-point range. The Mustangs couldn’t overcome that and missed all of their 11 shots from beyond the arc.
Senior guard Ridge Shipley lead all scorers with 19 points but the seventh-seeded Mustangs were unable to pull off the upset against No. 2 and eventual conference champion UC Davis in the first round of the Big West Tournament.
The Mustangs, who were the seventh seed for the fourth straight year, fell behind early; the Aggies jumped out to a 7-2 lead just over four minutes into an incredibly physical game.
After sophomore point guard Donovan Fields connected on a layup for the Mustangs with 15:17 on the clock, both teams went scoreless for almost five minutes. Fields converted another layup to bring the Mustangs within one at the 10-minute mark in the first half.
This was as close as the Mustangs came to a lead in the first half. The Aggies maintained their lead through their consistent effort on the offensive glass that resulted in multiple second chance opportunities. Though they held the Aggies to only 33 percent shooting in the first half, the Mustangs were outrebounded 24-18, 10-4 on the offensive boards and gave up 10 second-chance points.
“To be down five, I was amazed,” Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said. “We have no chance without competing on an equal basis on the boards. There’s no doubt that we have been small all year. We’re playing four guards who are [6-foot-1] and under.”
Fields dropped another layup to end the scoring drought and bring the Aggies’ lead to one, but the Aggies reeled off a 6-0 run to open up a 14-6 lead. The Mustangs kept the deficit in single digits throughout the first half and junior guard Victor Joseph narrowed the Mustangs’ deficit to six after he connected on a layup while crashing to the floor from a hard foul. Joseph converted the following free throw to cut the Aggies’ lead to 26-21 with one second before halftime.
The usually high-powered Mustang offense was lethargic through the first half as they only connected on one three-pointer and shot just over 30 percent from the field before the break. Though the Mustangs have been one of the best teams at holding on to the basketball this season, they uncharacteristically committed seven turnovers in the first half compared to just four from the Aggies.
“We have been that way all year, we’re capable of beating anybody but we have to make about 10 three-pointers and have a high shooting percentage,” Callero said. “Thirty-four percent is not going to get you in the tournament.”
The Mustangs continued to look sluggish offensively after halftime and the Aggies capitalized with an 8-2 run to get their first double-digit lead of the night with 16 minutes left in the game. Cal Poly responded quickly with 11 straight points to tie the game behind two buckets from deep by Shipley and one from junior forward Luke Meikle.
Shipley came out of the break on fire, putting behind his 1 of 4 shooting performance in the first half to score 16 points and drain four of his seven attempts from beyond the arc.
Despite Shipley’s stellar play in his final game as a Mustang, the Aggies began to pull away as the game continued. They pushed their lead to 52-41 with 7:30 to play, but Cal Poly senior forward Zach Gordon immediately responded on the other end of the floor with an emphatic dunk to bring the Aggies’ lead back to nine.
Gordon was a key contributor for the Mustangs in his final game, recording nine points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. He also took on the task of defending Chima Moneke, the Aggies’ statistical leader and one of the best players in the Big West. As a team, the Mustangs held Moneke to just 11 points on 4 of 15 shooting from the floor.
With 6:06 remaining, the Mustangs’ chances of a comeback seemed to slip away after Joseph went down with a right ankle injury. Joseph, who laid on the court for several minutes after the injury, would not return to the game after being assisted off the court.
“I don’t think I’ve seen that kid go down on the court more than one time in my life,” Callero said. “So when he went down and stayed down, then it’s a bad ankle. I’m sure he won’t be able to play [for] two to four weeks. Had we won the game, I think you would have seen another starting lineup of five guys who haven’t started at all.”
Despite losing one of their most prolific scorers, Shipley’s clutch three-point shooting propelled the Mustangs to within four points of the Aggies’ lead with less than two minutes to play.
With just 19 seconds left in the game, Shipley was called for a blocking foul, his fifth of the game, after he got run over and took an elbow to the face from UC Davis guard Lemar Brynton. His vocal disagreement with the call led to a technical foul and the Aggies converted all four ensuing free throws to seal the victory.
“I thought this senior year he did a wonderful job of not worrying about what have you done, but what can you do,” Callero said. “It was his best as a leader, as a player, as a defender and emotionally.”
Though the Mustangs limited Moneke’s scoring, the Big West Newcomer of the Year had another dominant game on the boards, finishing the game with a career-high 18 rebounds and his 15th double-double of the season, best in conference.
“He knew we needed a monster effort on the boards and we challenged him,” UC Davis head coach Jim Les said. “Generally, when we challenge him he rises to the occasion.”
With the loss, the Mustangs fell to 10-14 all-time in the Big West Tournament and have lost in the first round in three consecutive years following their 2014 season, their only berth in the NCAA Tournament.
As the men’s basketball team’s season comes to a close, the Mustangs will look to replace two key players next year after losing Shipley and Gordon, who will both graduate in spring.
“Cal Poly is a blessing, I would never be able to go here if it wasn’t for basketball,” Shipley said. “It’s been a while since I’ve had some time off and have been able to enjoy a regular student life, so it’s exciting.”
As for Gordon, he set his sights on playing professional basketball in Europe after graduation.
“I’d like to play overseas,” Gordon said. “I know I have the skill and the talent, too. I have some friends who play overseas. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to school and become a chiropractor.”