Everyone on the Cal Poly women’s basketball team could get whatever they wanted on a Saturday night full of milestones at Mott Gym.
And the Mustangs got plenty of lay-ups, teardrops in the lane, back-ins, pull-up jumpers, bombs and even a technical free throw or two in their 92-55 win over UC Irvine, but it all added up to something they wanted even more: their best Big West Conference start ever, and the program’s best conference start in 28 years.
“This was easily the best we’ve played as a team,” Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “We played such beautiful basketball tonight.”
For the visiting Anteaters, it became clear from the onset that the scoreboard would be an ugly sight.
When Sparkle Anderson claimed a steal and raced down court for an up-and-under lay-up at the halftime buzzer, 10 players had scored to mount a 47-24 lead for Cal Poly (7-9, 4-0 Big West Conference). The team was well on its way to its best conference start since 1979-80, when it began Southern California Athletic Association play in Division II 5-0.
More immediately relevant, though, is that the Mustangs assured themselves of a share of first place in the Big West, which they entered in 1996-97. The blowout set up a battle for sole possession of the conference’s commanding position when they welcome UC Santa Barbara (9-6, 4-0 BWC) this weekend.
“We can’t be too overly confident,” said junior forward Megan Harrison, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds in the victory. “Teams are going to come out and try to get us because there’s a target on our backs. Next week it’ll be No. 1 vs. No. 1.”
In a dizzying offensive display, Cal Poly used its overwhelming quickness to beat the Anteaters to every point on the floor, from which the Mustangs shot 57 percent, easily their best shooting performance of the season.
By the intermission, eight Mustangs had accounted for 16 total assists en route to a team total of 31 for the game.
“That sounds like a pro-team number,” Mimnaugh said of the assist total, a season high by 10.
Harrison, the Mustangs’ leading scorer and rebounder for the season, emphasized that her team’s unselfishness is paramount to its success.
“No one cares who takes a shot,” she said. “We have great team chemistry right now.”
Sophomore forward Rebecca Tratter, who tied her career high with 16 points, said she was unaware of her own personal achievement.
“Oh, I didn’t even know,” she said when told of the statistic. “There was just a lot of ball movement and everything flowed tonight.”
On the other side of the court, Cal Poly held the Anteaters (4-13, 0-3 BWC) to just 28-percent shooting for the game and eight assists, an output that was individually matched by Mustangs senior guard Toni Newman.
Senior guard Kyla Howell’s 15-footer about eight-and-a-half minutes into the rout was the 12th Cal Poly basket in 15 tries, completing a 17-3 run that polished off a 27-9 advantage.
Anteaters senior forward Stephanie Duda, who entered the game averaging 13.2 points and a conference-leading 10.1 rebounds per game, was held without a basket until less than two minutes remained in the opening half.
She finished with team highs of 12 points and 11 rebounds. Her scoring drought came at an inopportune time for UC Irvine, whose second-leading scorer and rebounder, sophomore forward Kelly Cochran, sat out the game due to a knee injury.
“Cochran’s absence was significant for them,” Mimnaugh said. “She’s a key piece for them – she’s worth about 25 points in a game, offensively and defensively.”
Still, though, Mimnaugh, whose Cal Poly teams have scored more points in a game just four times since she began her tenure with the program in 1997-98, was satisfied with her squad’s showing.
“There were only a couple of bad shots,” she said. “We dominated from the tip.”
During the second half, in which UC Irvine got no closer than 19 points, other Mustangs carving out career nights included sophomore guard Brittany Asplund, who netted a career-high 10 points, and freshman guard Desiray Johnston, whose two points were her first as a college player.
The Mustangs will travel to Cal State Bakersfield for a 7 p.m. tip Thursday before returning home to face the Gauchos at 4 p.m. Saturday.