Cal Poly women’s basketball coach Faith Mimnaugh knew it wouldn’t take long for Kristina Santiago to reach her potential.
With a Cal Poly career-high 26 points in the Mustangs 74-66 victory over Long Beach State last Sunday, the sophomore forward may be ahead of schedule.
“When we were recruiting her we knew it was just a matter of time,” Mimnaugh recalled. “She has tremendous potential.”
Santiago is just one of the reasons that Cal Poly (8-5, 1-1 Big West Conference) believes the team itself can reach its full potential this year.
“They really want a championship,” Mimnaugh said of the team’s ultimate goal. “We want to get better each day.”
The next step towards a Big West championship comes against Cal State Fullerton (4-7, 1-0) at 7 p.m. tomorrow in Titan Gym.
The Mustangs split the season series with the Titans last year, including a 70-55 loss in Fullerton last year.
This year’s Mustangs have improved their record by four games after 13 games from last season’s 4-9 start. A big reason for the turnaround has been the team’s ability to share the ball.
The Mustangs are sixth in the nation in assists (17.8 per game) and 17th in assist-turnover ratio (1.04).
“We love to move the ball around and we’re making baskets,” Mimnaugh said. “They’re unselfish, sometimes a little too unselfish.”
Cal Poly has six players averaging at least 1.8 assists per game, led by junior guard Ashlee Stewart’s 2.8 average.
With so many able passers, the Mustangs can move the ball around despite pressure defenses.
“We punish teams when they do double-teams because it’s not just (our guards) who can pass,” Mimnaugh said. “We really do a good job of finding the best scorer on the court.”
Santiago has been a main benefactor of the quality passing, shooting 55.1 percent from the field, 30th best in the nation. She is also in the top 100 in free throw percentage shooting 81 percent.
“She is one of the most athletic players in the league right now,” Mimnaugh said. “She’s playing well offensively and defensively. I think she’s an all-conference performer.”
While Santiago lead’s the team in scoring (14.7 points per game), her starting frontcourt teammates, senior forward Megan Harrison (12.7) and senior guard Lisa McBride (10.8) are also averaging double figures.
The Mustangs big frontline will have its hands full with Cal State Fullerton senior forward Toni Thomas who is averaging 13.3 points in just 20.5 minutes per game this year.
Mimnaugh defined two specific areas that Cal Poly needs to improve on defensively.
“We need to work on our ability to defend penetration and we need to work on our help side,” she said. “We are there sometimes and not at other times. We’re improving, but we’re not always where we need to be.”
Thomas will provide a test for the Mustangs defense as she has the ability to work inside and outside. Not only is she Cal State Fullerton’s sixth leading rebounder in school history, but Thomas also shoots 46.7 percent from 3-point range.