Five games into conference play, the Mustangs (6-10, 3-2 Big West) hold the mindset that they can compete with anyone in the Big West.
According to numerous pre-season polls, the Mustangs should not hold their chins so high. Cal Poly was projected to be the bottom-feeder of the conference this season.
The newfound swagger hit the Mustangs after recording a 90-79 win against Long Beach State. The scoring performance came from five different Mustangs who contributed with double figures, against a 49er team that was dubbed one of the favorites to win the conference at the start of the season.
“Our outlook right now is that we can beat anyone,” sophomore forward David Hanson said. “Predictions at the beginning of the year mean nothing…every game is winnable.”
Tonight, Cal Poly looks to advance from a three-way second place tie in the Big West, when they host UC Riverside (7-10, 1-4 Big West) in Mott Gym at 7 p.m.
“I think (the team’s) confidence level is that we can beat anybody, on any court,” head coach Joe Callero said. “We’re just going in to pla;, we’re not thinking about standings.”
The pre-season projection may have been a bit of a gift to the Mustangs, Callero said. The underdog mentality may have led teams to look past them.
“Let’s put it this way, (opponents) certainly don’t think the Lakers are coming into town,” Callero said. “If somebody’s not prepared for Cal Poly and is overlooking us, well that’s to our advantage — we’ll jump on that.”
Cal Poly will carry that mindset into Mott Gym, facing an opponent that sits in last place in the Big West.
“Every conference game is a game that we want to go out and win,” Hanson said. “We don’t look at (UC Riverside) any differently, we just see them as a game that we need to go out and get — they’re winnable games for us.”
Callero said his team can’t let leads slip through their fingers.
“When you haven’t been ahead a lot, you’re not comfortable with realizing that a team is going to pressure you,” Callero said. “I think it’s pretty common that you have to see a team has to fight (opponents) off… It’s the position we want to be in, which is learning how to win home or away, learning to play with a 19-point lead or a five-point lead.”
After hitting the road for two contests, the Mustangs will host two games this week. The Mustang coaching staff’s goal is to develop the team’s home-court advantage. But sometimes, heading home after a road trip can be detrimental.
“Sometimes, coming home adds a bit more excitement to the team,” Callero said. “Someone lunges out to somebody to go for a steal, kicks it, and a guy gets a three… We got to learn play with the poise of having your home-court support while not getting out of formation.”
Hanson has scored double digits in three of the Mustang’s five conference games this year. His most recent came against Long Beach State where he posted a career-high 22 points and a season-high eight rebounds.
The team’s leading scorer is senior guard Lorenzo Keeler. Keeler is averaging 21 points per game in conference play.
UC Riverside holds the third leading scorer in the conference — junior Kyle Austin. Austin is averaging 20 points per game in the Highlanders’ five conference contests.
Tip off is set for 7 p.m.