The Cal Poly women’s basketball team is back in the Big West Tournament with a No. 1 seed for the second consecutive year after defeating Pacific 88-66 in the regular season finale.
Kristina Santiago, who earned her second Big West Player of the Year award on Monday, scored 33 points in the victory and became Cal Poly’s all-time leading scorer passing Laura Buehning with her 1,845th point early in the first half.
“It’s a huge honor that I’m getting recognition for Cal Poly, not only me, but other players (are getting recognized),” Santiago said in a press conference. “That was one of my main goals when I got here, to help the program get national recognition.”
Head coach Faith Mimnaugh said during the press conference that Santiago is the greatest Cal Poly women’s basketball player of all time.
“This was a 30-year-old record that (Santiago) has broken,” Mimnaugh said. “High accolades to (Buehning), but (Santiago) can do it all, and she’s amazing.”
A win against Cal State Fullerton tonight in Mott Gym would send the Mustangs to Anaheim, Calif., for the semifinal round. Cal Poly (16-13, 12-4) defeated the Titans in both regular season match ups by a combined 25 points.
Mimnaugh said the key to shutting down Fullerton is containing Megan Richardson, a former Mustangs recruit who scored 10 points against them in a January game.
“Defending their great players and rebounding the basketball is going to be critical for us,” she said. “They are more athletic than we are, we feel like we’re a little bigger overall in our forward position. We’re going to exploit that as much as we can.”
Santiago along with the sharpshooting Ashlee Burns, who has hit 42 percent of her 3-point attempts, lead the women’s scoring offense that averages 72.6 points per game.
“We’re very eager to play the next couple games,” Santiago said. “We celebrated that night (after clinching the title), and (then) focused right back on the next game.”
Santiago averages 23.1 points per game and currently ranks seventh in the nation in scoring. Her rebounding (10.1 per game) and field goal percentage (55.8) also put her in the top 25 in the country.
Last year, the Mustangs rode their top seed to the finals of the Big West tournament where UC Davis, then a fifth seed, took apart Cal Poly in a 17-point win.
“I felt like UC Davis was the better team, and it was only a matter of time before it all came together and played championship level basketball,” Mimnaugh said of the defeat.
Last Thursday, the Aggies defeated a shorthanded Mustang squad 65-61 as Santiago sat out following a concussion she suffered against Cal State Northridge and snapped Cal Poly’s nine-game winning streak.
No Cal Poly basketball team has ever won the Big West Tournament or qualified for the NCAA Tournament. The win on Saturday gave the programs its first outright Big West regular season title, the team shared the crown with UC Santa Barbara last year.
“I feel like right now Cal Poly is the best team in the conference, and for us to be able to be successful (tonight), it’s all about rebounding the basketball, sharing it on offense and defending,” Mimnaugh said. “If we do that, then we get to play again on Friday.”
The team faces Cal State Fullerton (11-18, 4-12) in the opening round of the tournament tonight at 7 p.m.