The win streak continued for the Cal Poly women’s basketball team as they overpowered second-place Cal State Northridge 70-56 on senior night inside Mott Gym Saturday afternoon. The Mustangs’ last loss came on the road in a 74-67 defeat at Long Beach State on Jan. 21. Since then Cal Poly has racked up nine straight wins to secure at least a share of the Big West regular season championship for the second consecutive year.
After several early season losing streaks — including seven straight defeats in November and December — Cal Poly picked up its pace in the end stage of its conference schedule, improving to 11-3 in Big West play and 15-12 overall. Speaking of their recent success, head coach Faith Mimnaugh said her team’s attitude hasn’t changed since the beginning of the season despite the bumpy start.
“Whether we’re losing a game by a point early in December or whether we’re taking care of business here, the whole mindset has been to win a (conference) championship and get to the NCAA (tournament),” Mimnaugh said.
Now that the Mustangs have earned at least a share of the regular season crown, they’ll set their sights on winning the conference tournament and senior forward Kristina Santiago’s chance to make history.
With her 16-point, 15-rebound performance against the Matadors (16-12, 10-5), Santiago bridged the gap to just four points to surpass Laura Buehning as Cal Poly’s all-time scoring leader. She already holds the school record for career rebounds with 816. The double-double performance was her 14th of the season.
Cal Poly and former Righetti High School teammate Molly Schlemer said Santiago’s hard work merits the accomplishment.
“She deserves the four more points,” Schlemer said. “She’s earned that title she is about to get, and she really deserves it.”
The Cal Poly coaching staff took Santiago out with 1:12 to go in the game, a decision Mimnaugh said was irrespective of the situation the senior was in.
Schlemer saw 14 minutes of action on the afternoon and made sure that each one would count. Her 12 points and four rebounds proved instrumental in Cal Poly’s ability to pull away with more than 10 minutes to go in the game. She knocked down back-to-back buckets and two free throws that would pump up the raucous Mott Gym crowd and deflate the Matadors’ offense with 12:34 to go.
“It was so much fun to see her playing like that because she’s one of those players that has those spurts in practice,” Santiago said. “For her to apply that in the game and come up with some huge buckets to put us ahead was huge.”
The Mustangs got on the board early against Cal State Northridge with a jumper by freshman guard Arianna Elegado 25 seconds in. The Mustangs would claw to their largest lead of the first half off junior guard Kayla Griffin’s conventional 3-point play with 1:15 remaining in the frame.
The Mustangs entered the break with a 33-23 advantage shooting 45 percent from the field in contrast to Cal State Northridge’s 28 percent.
The game as a whole was permeated with fouls and physical play, according to Santiago who was bleeding from her nose late in the contest.
“(It was) easily the most physical game I’ve played this conference,” Santiago said. “I mean it’s good. That’s what most teams work to do to get me off my game. It was definitely throwing my shot off, getting me out of my rhythm a little bit.”
The Matadors would cut the Mustang lead to 39-37 with 15:16 remaining in the game thanks to forward Jianni Jackson’s corner 3-pointer. Despite the effort, Cal State Northridge would never lead throughout the game.
Santiago’s layup with 8:44 to go gave the Mustangs their largest lead at 16, and they cruised the rest of the way to their final 14-point margin of victory.
The Mustangs had two other players in double figures. Ashlee Burns tallied 11, converting on three of seven shots from beyond the arc, and Elegado added 12 as she started in place of sophomore Jonae Ervin.
The Mustangs carried the advantage on the glass out-rebounding the Matadors 49-35 on the afternoon. According to Schlemer, the team entered the contest focused on controlling the boards.
“That was one of our main points out-rebounding them because they’re a real athletic team,” she said. “They got one offensive rebound that second half, and that’s where we really needed it. That’s what made us win the game.”
Cal Poly has two regular season games remaining, both away from home. The Mustangs travel to UC Davis on Thursday and to Pacific on Saturday. One win would earn them an outright title as conference champions. With the victory against Cal State Northridge, Cal Poly is guaranteed a first-round home playoff game to be played on March 6 in Mott Gym.
“I feel like we’re the best team in the league,” Mimnaugh said. “If the best team in the league pieces it together for three days, they’ve got a shot at winning the championship and going to the NCAA (tournament).