For the Mustangs—a team that has never made it to the “Big Dance” in 17 Division I seasons—the loss marked another upset defeat following last year’s 66-49 loss to UC Davis in the final round of the conference tournament.
Big West Player of the Year senior Kristina Santiago was baffled that her team’s assertive run through conference play in the regular season came to an end.
“I couldn’t really believe it at the time, I went into shock a little bit,” Santiago said. “I think we were the best team in the conference this year, we didn’t come out ready to get after it.”
To add insult to injury the Mustangs lost point guard Jonae Ervin three minutes into the first half after she tore her right ACL. Entering the contest, Ervin was the nation’s leader in assist-to-turnover ratio, but the sophomore took a misstep on defense that resulted in the injury. She suffered the same injury to her left knee in the 2009-10 season.
Both teams came out of the gates struggling to find points in the first half shooting well below their season averages. The 49ers’ sophomore point guard Hallie Meneses hit the half’s only 3-pointer with 12 seconds remaining as the teams went a combined 1 of 18 from beyond the arc in the first frame, but the Mustangs entered the break with a slim advantage at halftime leading 19-13.
“It was a struggle on the offensive end the whole night,” Mimnaugh said. “It’s very frustrating and extremely disappointing for our team because I felt like we were the best team in the tournament.”
The second half was in contrast to the first as the Mustangs and 49ers combined for a perfect 5 for 5 shooting following the break.
A 3-pointer by Burns with 15:57 to go sparked a 7-0 Mustang run, but the 49ers answered with a 9-0 run over the next 3:20. The teams exchanged baskets until guard Chantel Dooley’s layup with 8:52 knotted the score at 37.
A 3-pointer by freshman guard Lauren Spargo with over six minutes to go gave the 49ers their first lead since the 18:31 mark of the first half.
Christine Martin breathed life into the Mustangs as she hit back-to-back 3-pointers, giving the Mustangs a one-point edge with 2:01 remaining. The senior had a chance to make it three in a row from 3-point land, but her made attempt was waved off as the Mustang bench called a timeout before she let it go.
“I was definitely confident and my teammates did a good job of finding me,” Martin said. “Obviously I wish it would have counted, but that’s how it goes.”
Following forward Tipesa Moorer’s layup with over a minute to play, Santiago was fouled in the paint, but missed both of her free throw attempts.
Burns missed two free throws with 14 seconds remaining on the clock, but Santiago controlled the rebound and put back the layup to cut the 49er lead to 49-48 with 11 seconds left. Martin fouled Dooley on an inbounds play with six seconds left—Dooley hit both to give Long Beach State its final advantage of the day.
Both teams shot below 35 percent on the afternoon, but Long Beach State connected on half of their second half shots to erase the Mustang lead. Cal Poly hit just three 3-pointers on 18 attempts, Mimnaugh said that she thought the team took too many in the first half.
Cal Poly held a slight 43 to 40 advantage in rebounding as Santiago led the way with 12. The Mustangs missed eight free throws including two key attempts from Santiago in the final minute that could have given Cal Poly the lead.
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