Cal Poly men's basketball are one step closer to rounding off their roster for the upcoming season. Ian Billings | Staff Photographer

Brian De Los Santos
Special to Mustang News

ST. LOUIS – The Cal Poly men’s basketball team won fewer games than Cal Poly’s football team during my freshman year on campus.

So if you had told me that six years later — as an alumnus of this university — I’d see the name Cal Poly broadcast on primetime television and mentioned in the same breaths as some of the most storied basketball teams in the country, I would have said you were crazy. I mean, you’re kidding, right? This is Cal Poly, the school on the coast known more for its agriculture and engineering than its athletic programs.

But no, I am not. And even while Cal Poly is nursing its wounds from a humbling 64-37 loss to top-seeded Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament on Friday, the Mustangs lighting-in-a-bottle run has produced a laundry list of jaw-dropping and unfathomable events, one that not even someone following the team for the past six years could have imagined.

Just think back. There was the biggest shot in school history — one made by a true freshman to propel his team into the brightest national spotlight it has ever seen. There was revenge — the complete 69-38 dismantling of rival UC Santa Barbara that fueled one of the most unexpected runs in the Big West tournament. And then there was the win — the 81-69 fist-pumping victory over Texas Southern that proved to the entire country that teams with losing records deserve to play in March, too.

All of that, though, feels a bit opaque with the performance on Friday. At times the Mustangs seemed timid, a bit too tense to let loose and play their game in the eye of a national audience. On the other hand, Wichita State scored at will. It bullied through Cal Poly’s defense and made all their dunks, alley-oops and 3-pointers look easy.

Maybe Cal Poly never stood a chance at beating a team that is poised to make a run at the national championship. But the crazy thing is that, after everything Cal Poly had accomplished, it seemed if there ever were a time for Musty to transform into Cinderella, this would be the year.

So even if Cal Poly fell far short of its hopes to produce the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history, the thing to remember is this basketball team — the one that came into the Big West tournament as the seventh overall seed, the one that couldn’t buy a win if it wanted during a season-ending 2-9 drought — convinced the entire city of San Luis Obispo that maybe … they could.

In the grand scheme of things, that’s what most will remember from these days in March. This run meant something to a program starving for bragging rights. Joe Callero — in the past eight days alone — has won more than half the games the Mustangs did in the entire 2008-09 season. That being said, just the mere fact that I witnessed Cal Poly standing on the same court as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is something that still has me scratching my head.

So, yes, Cal Poly fell short of its upset bid tonight. And, no, it isn’t George Mason, it isn’t VCU and it isn’t Florida Gulf Coast.

But be it as it may, tonight was historical in its own right.

Brian De Los Santos was the editor-in-chief of Mustang Daily in 2012-13 and is currently a graduate student at Northwestern University.

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