COURTESY BIG WEST CONFERENCE Credit: Courtesy | Big West Conference

Cal Poly edged out Long Beach State 61-60 with a last second shot in the Big West Tournament quarterfinals on Wednesday, March 10 in the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.

Sophomore guard Maddie Willett finished a tough post move with 0.6 seconds remaining in the game to give Cal Poly the one-point win. The No. 6 seed Mustangs mimicked their performance from last year’s tournament by taking out the No. 3 seed Long Beach State as a lower seed in the first round. 

Senior forward Sierra Campisano and sophomore guard Abbey Ellis had huge games to propel the Mustangs to the win. Campisano accounted for nearly half of the Mustangs’ scoring with 30 points and 12 rebounds, while Ellis posted 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in the win. Both were named members of the All-Big West First Team three days prior to the match; this was Campisano’s second consecutive year making the first team. 

“I was so happy, I’m seriously so proud of everybody on the team,” Campisano said. “We gave it our all for all 40 minutes, showed such grit, and it was a total team effort.” 

The game was exciting from wire to wire. Long Beach opened up the scoring with a fast-break layup. The Mustangs had an immediate response with Ellis getting a layup of her own slicing through the paint. This was the first basket of an 11-2 Cal Poly run that lasted just over five minutes of gameplay. 

Long Beach finally snapped the scoring drought by hitting a three-pointer with 2:48 left in the first quarter. One minute later, Campisano made a three-pointer of her own to re-establish a seven point lead. The Beach missed a layup with two seconds remaining in the quarter, giving the Mustangs a 15-9 lead after one. 

The second quarter played out much differently than the first. It was the Beach who had an early run, scoring the first six points of the quarter to tie the game early on. Campisano scored the first basket of the quarter for Cal Poly with a second chance layup almost four minutes into the period. 

The squads traded three-pointers on the next two possessions before Imani Lacy took over for Long Beach. Lacy scored six of the final seven points of the quarter for the Beach, while having 10 of the team’s 16 points overall in the quarter. The Mustangs had a few baskets of their own down the stretch, but only took a one-point lead at 26-25 into the half.

Neither team shot well in the first half with the Mustangs only hitting 30% of their field goals, while the Beach converted 34% of their attempts from the field. Cal Poly dominated on the boards in the first half by a 25-12 margin. However, the Beach bench put in 12 points while the Mustang bench was scoreless in the half.

The Beach got off to another fast start, scoring the first five points of the second half to give them a four-point lead, their largest of the game thus far. Campisano once again had the first points of the period for Cal Poly, although the Beach were quick to respond with a corner three. Just over four minutes later, Long Beach hit another three-pointer to extend their lead to eight, their largest of the game. 

From this moment on, the Mustangs were in comeback mode. It was a back-and-forth game for the rest of the quarter capped off by a Campisano corner three with two seconds left to cut the Beach lead to three when the buzzer sounded. 

The fourth quarter was a battle from start to finish. Cal Poly scored the first five points of the quarter including a ferocious basket with the foul by Campisano off of a beautiful pass from sophomore guard Maddie Vick. After two free throws by Long Beach to tie the game, Campisano logged the next six points in the game.

With 4:13 left in the game, the Beach scored a layup to cut the Mustang lead to just one point. Willett would go to the line on back-to-back possessions to grow the lead to three points. On the next defensive trip down the floor, Campisano was called for her fifth foul, meaning she fouled out and would have to sit for the rest of the game.

The Beach took advantage and with 2:13 left, took the lead by one. Ellis snagged an offensive rebound on the next possession and finished a tough layup to take the lead back. Long Beach State’s Naomi Hunt turned on the gas, scoring a layup followed by two free throws on her next two offensive possessions. 

With just over thirty seconds remaining, Willett drove hard to the bucket, got the contact and converted both free throws. Two missed free throws by Long Beach left the door open for Cal Poly. On the final possession, the ball found its way to Willett deep in the paint, and she scored the difficult turnaround finish to give the Mustangs a one-point lead with less than a second remaining. With no timeouts left, Long Beach could only heave it down the court to no avail.  

Cal Poly came away with the one-point victory on their way to the semifinals. Campisano’s 30 points and 12 rebounds were both game highs, while her All-Conference running mate Ellis posted a game high five assists. Willett scored all 10 of her points in the second half. After the game, Willett talked about staying composed after struggling in the first half.

“I think when I came off the bench in the second half, I had a little extra grit and just wanted to get to the free throw line and attack the basket because my three-pointer wasn’t falling,” Willett said. “So just adjusting to what the game was giving me, and being confident in myself even when I wasn’t hitting a lot of shots.”

By the end of the matchup, there were eight ties and 13 lead changes.

The Mustangs will look forward to their semifinal matchup against No. 2 seed UC Irvine on Friday, March 12 at 3 p.m. back in the Mandalay Bay Events Center.


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