While the sunny weather provided a warm winter day for San Luis Obispo residents, the climate was much cooler inside Mott Gym as the Mustangs fell to UC Riverside 47-46 on Sunday.
Although Cal Poly’s full-court pressing defense kept the Mustangs close despite a dismal shooting performance, it wasn’t enough to pull Cal Poly back from a 12-point half-time deficit.
“For us, the press is what we live and die by,” Cal Poly coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “We press for 40 minutes. If our offense can be as potent as our defense, we’re going to be a dangerous team come tournament time.”
The loss drops the Mustangs to 5-5 in Big West play and 10-10 overall, while the Highlanders improved to 4-7 in conference play and 8-14 overall.
After winning its first three Big West games, the Mustangs have lost five of their last seven conference games and lost a pair to UC Davis.
The first half was marred by missed shot after missed shot for the Mustangs while the Highlanders turned the ball over 18 times in the opening 20 minutes of play, eight alone coming from starting point-guard Vanessa Campillo.
Cal Poly trailed 26-14 at the half. But behind a fervent defensive effort in the second half, the Mustangs drew to a 47-47 tie with 2:22 remaining.
As the game seemed destined for overtime, the Highlanders’ Seyram Gbewonyo drove the the hoop and was fouled in the lane by Cal Poly’s Jessica Eggleston.
Gbewonyo missed the first free-throw off the front of the rim, but swished the next.
After timeouts by the Highlanders and Mimnaugh, Cal Poly’s Courtney Cameron inbounded the ball to Michelle Henke with the length of the floor in front of her.
Henke sprinted downcourt and took an off-balanced lay-up from about 8-feet away, but the shot caromed off the backboard into the rim and away from the hoop to end the Mustangs’ comeback hopes.
Gbewonyo led all scorers with 16 for the Highlanders. Amber Cox chipped in 11 for Riverside.
Sparkle Anderson and Sarah Grieve had 10 apiece to lead the Mustangs offensively.
On the boards, Riverside’s Kemie Nkele had a game-high 13 rebounds, eight on the offensive end and teammates Roney Friend and Tainoisouti Lott were next best with 10 and nine, respectively.
Both teams shot the ball poorly, Riverside at 28.6 percent from the field as a team and Cal Poly at 29.2 percent. The difference was in three-point shooting and from the free-throw line as the Highlanders made five more than the Mustangs from downtown and six more from the charity stripe. Cal Poly will host Long Beach State on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Mott Gym.