Five of those nine losses were decided by one basket, including back-to-back, one-point losses to Loyola Marymount and San Diego State. The Mustangs also lost both of their East Coast games at Sacred Heart (Connecticut) and Long Island (New York).
Mimnaugh cited a change in defensive strategy as one reason for the team’s early struggles. Dissatisfied with the strength of Cal Poly’s man-to-man defense, she implemented a “match-up zone” midseason.
The new zone defense is designed to give the team more options and versatility against its Big West opponents. While it is still a work in progress, Mimnaugh said the team made vast improvements despite seven straight losses.
“There were little, tiny wins within the losses,” she said. “We just tried to focus on how we’re getting better.”
With the adjustment in place and season in full stride, Cal Poly looks poised to defend its Big West Conference Championship after two straight wins against UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Fullerton.
Junior guard Kayla Griffin put up a double-double in the road game at Fullerton, recording 19 points and 10 rebounds in a 76-69 Mustangs victory.
“We really needed a win,” Griffin said, referring to Cal Poly’s December woes. “Two right off the bat really set the tone for us, and the rest of our season.”
Senior forward Kristina Santiago also notched a double-double against Fullerton, scoring 29 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Her strong numbers during the losing streak earned her Coca-Cola/Cal Poly Player of the Week, after a 44-point performance against San Diego State. The effort fell two points shy of Cal Poly’s school record.
The former 2010 Big West Conference Player of the Year looks to be back in full force, after redshirting last season with a knee injury.
Injuries plagued the Mustangs throughout last season, but the team still managed to win the Big West Conference Championship. This season, Cal Poly looks forward to a full, healthy roster within the next month.
Senior center Abby Bloetscher practiced full-speed for the first time on Monday, returning from a torn ACL. Her rebounding presence is vital to a team that is already without junior forward Brittany Woodard, whose stress fracture in her foot should heal over the next several weeks.
If recovery time is rushed, a stress fracture presents high risk of re-injury, so Woodard said she and the team are staying cautious.
“I feel good, but I don’t want to push it and be out for the rest of the season,” she said.
Cal Poly will look to continue its winning ways with home games against UC Riverside on Thursday and UC Irvine on Saturday.