It was only one game, but if Saturday is any indication, the Cal Poly women’s basketball team’s new starting lineup looks to be potent.
At least on defense.
Cal Poly routed visiting San Francisco 60-38 in a nonconference game Saturday in Mott Gym. It marked the first time the Dons had been held under 40 points since 1993 and the first time the Mustangs had limited an opponent to less than 40 points since a 63-35 win over Idaho on Jan. 9, 2003.
“It’s definitely a strength,” Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh said of her team’s defense. “I feel like our defense is stronger than our offense right now. If we can strengthen our offense and make great decisions, we’re going to be a team that can vie for a championship in the Big West.”
With four-year starting senior point guard Sparkle Anderson sidelined with a left knee injury, the Mustangs went with a bigger starting lineup Saturday.
Sophomore Megan Harrison and junior Nicole Yarwasky, both post players, made their first starts of the season. Freshman power forward Bria Fields, who started the first six games of the season, came off the bench.
The other three pieces of the starting five stayed the same – junior guards Kyla Howell and Toni Newman and senior forward Jessica Eggleston.
Howell, however, saw more time at point guard than usual. She had nine points and five assists while shooting 4 for 6 from the field.
“She controlled the tempo for us,” Mimnaugh said of Howell, who committed just two turnovers in 27 minutes.
Anderson suffered a left knee injury while driving to the hoop late in the first half against Loyola Marymount on Nov. 28.
After Saturday’s game, Anderson said she will not know the exact nature of the injury until either Tuesday or Wednesday.
“When it happened, it felt like I might have torn my ACL or something like that, but we don’t know yet,” she said. “For sure we’ll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.”
When asked whether she could return this season, Anderson said, “I want to, but if the injury says that I can’t, then I won’t.”
“I don’t know, that’s all up in the air,” she said. “It depends on the injury. If it’s a meniscus thing, I could be back in like six weeks, but if it’s the ACL, I won’t be back this year.”
Anderson’s per-game averages so far this season are 8.3 points, 2.7 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.0 rebounds. She was named Big West Conference Player of the Week on Nov. 27 after coming up with nine steals – two short of a school record – in a 77-75 overtime win at Portland on Nov. 25.
Anderson led the Big West in both assists per game (4.07) and assists-to-turnover ratio (1.57) last season.
In addition to Howell, others saw increased action running point as well. Freshmen Shannon Gholar, Ashlee Stewart, Tamara Wells and senior Ardia Kelker combined for four points, two assists, four rebounds and only two turnovers in 24 minutes.
But the catalyst for Cal Poly (4-3), which is 2-2 against West Coast Conference teams and 3-1 at home, was Eggleston on defense.
Eggleston held San Francisco’s leading scorer, Dominique Carter, who entered averaging 16.7 points per game, to five points on 2-for-14 shooting.
“(Eggleston) was one of the main reasons we won this game today,” Mimnaugh said. “Her job on the boards, her job in frustrating Carter was instrumental in us keeping them under 40 points. Carter is one heck of a player and we said as a team, if we could do a super job of keeping her out of penetration, keep her off the line, keep her off the boards, then we had a good shot in this game.”
Taking and making most of her shots for the Mustangs was Harrison, who poured in 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting. She also had four rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals in 27 minutes.
“It was nice but starting’s not really a big deal for me,” Harrison said. “I got in a lot of extra shots this week and was really working on stuff. They played behind us in the post. We were able to capitalize on that.”
Like Harrison, Mimnaugh credited Yarwasky with solid help-side defense in the post. The Mustangs limited the starting front line for San Francisco to a combined 12 points on 4-for-15 shooting.
“Nicole has had a great couple weeks of practice,” Mimnaugh said. “She’s done an awesome job defensively with knowing where to be. We had super support off the bench as well.”
The Dons (3-5), who have already lost to Colorado, Wyoming and Miami, shot just 25.5 percent from the field, including a figure of 1 for 15 from three-point range.
Cal Poly shot 44.8 percent from the floor, including a clip of 13 for 25 in the second half. The Mustangs were only 4 for 10 from the free-throw line.
Senior Kaysen Brennan and freshman Becky Tratter, both guards, scored eight and nine points, respectively.
Eggleston had four points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals.
The Mustangs are the lone team in the Big West with a winning overall record.
Through Saturday, the conference’s eight teams had combined for a record of 16-38.
In the Big West preseason polls, Cal Poly was picked to finish seventh by coaches and fifth by media members.
The team picked by coaches to win the Big West – UC Riverside – is currently 2-5. The team picked by media – UC Santa Barbara – is 1-5.
“We were ranked seventh coming in,” Anderson said. “We want to prove that’s not what it should be.”
Cal Poly visits San Diego State (2-3) at 7 p.m. Thursday.