Ryan Chartrand

Derek Stockalper has waited patiently to play on a team like this.

A team that shows resiliency, shares the basketball and can say it has a winning record in the second half of the season. And at the center of that resurgent group is Cal Poly’s do-everything senior forward.

“Take care of home court and we’ll be right there with the top guys in our league,” Stockalper said Monday at a weekly athletics department press conference. “So if we can do that, we might be cutting down the nets this year.”

Cal Poly (11-9, 3-4 Big West Conference), which has a winning overall record 20 games into the season for the first time since a 13-7 start to the 2001-02 campaign, hosts Long Beach State at 7 tonight. Although the Mustangs are sixth in the eight-team conference’s standings, only three games separate the top seven teams.

“We put ourselves in position to have a great February and March,” Cal Poly head coach Kevin Bromley said. “They’ll be focused. It’s going to be hard to beat us.”

First-place Long Beach State (15-6, 6-2 Big West) will be without starting junior shooting guard Kejuan Johnson and backup senior center Mark Dawson. The two were suspended for three games each last week because of “the payment for courses prior to their enrollment” at the university, according to a statement on the team’s official Web site. The statement also said Johnson and Dawson will have their eligibility reinstated for their game at UC Santa Barbara on Saturday.

“We will continue to work closely with the NCAA through the completion of this review,” Long Beach State athletics director Vic Cegles said in the statement.

The 49ers, however, have not necessarily missed Johnson (15.1 points per game) and Dawson, who averages 5.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. They come to Mott Gym riding the momentum of consecutive home wins over Cal State Northridge (79-72) and Pacific (92-64).

“They spread you out and drive at you,” Bromley said of the 49ers. “We have the athletes to keep the ball in front of us.”

The Mustangs have won five of their last six games, including an 88-64 drubbing of UC Davis in Davis on Saturday in which Stockalper scored a career-high 30 points.

“It was just one of those games where anything I was throwing up was going in, which I hadn’t had in a while, so that was nice,” Stockalper said. “My teammates found me when I was open. It was just going in for me that night.”

The 30 points was one of five career highs set or tied that night for Stockalper, including six 3-pointers.

“When you’re hot, you’ve got to keep shooting,” Bromley said. “Sometimes (Stockalper) is unselfish to a fault and doesn’t try to take over a basketball game, and he’s got the capability to do that. He kept being aggressive – that’s how he wound up with 30.”

A big part of the Mustangs’ 24-point win was a 23-for-27 showing at the free-throw line, an area in which they had struggled much of the season. With a clip of .611 at the foul line on the season, Cal Poly is still last in the Big West by 36 percentage points.

“Judging by the rest of our games,” Stockalper said, “I think we’re going to continue to need to work on it in practice constantly. It was good for us to get that confidence up at the line and we need to keep shooting the ball like we did against Davis.”

Stockalper said the team’s play at point guard has given it a huge lift. Starter Trae Clark and sixth man Chaz Thomas have combined to average 15.5 points, 5.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game this season.

“They’re huge for us,” Stockalper said of Clark and Thomas. “I’ve seen a lot of development from the beginning of this year and this point. They’ve really flourished the last two games. They’re big for us. Their confidence is getting better and better as the season goes along, which is nice to see. We need them to play well to win.”

Cal Poly is 7-1 at home this season and plays four of its final six regular-season games in Mott Gym.

“We’ve obviously played pretty well at home this year,” Stockalper said. “We’ve got a good chance to get a lot of wins here in the second half. The other guys coming into our place are going to have a real tough time with us here and they’re going to have to play really well to beat us at home. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think we’re going to take care of business.”

Tonight’s game appears to be a battle of strong offense versus strong defense. Cal Poly is second in the Big West in blocked shots per game (3.65) and third in field-goal percentage defense (.423). Long Beach State is second in the Big West in points per game (78.0) and led the nation in that category with an average of 83.3 last season.

The 49ers, however, are still looking for their first Big West win on the road, a department in which they are 0-2 this season.

All those factors could come into play tonight, which only makes Saturday’s 4 p.m. home game against UC Irvine more important in the race for conference tournament seeding.

“Big game Thursday,” Bromley said. “Not looking toward Saturday at all.”

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