Recently snagging the top spot in the Big West Conference from UC Davis, Cal Poly women’s basketball team heads into the weekend as the team to beat.
Cal Poly (15-7, 8-2 Big West) will travel to play the fourth-ranked Long Beach State 49ers (9-13, 5-4). The Mustangs earned their 400th victory in program history, defeating the 49ers 86-63 earlier this season.
Junior guard Rachel Clancy was awarded Big West Player of the Week honors last week. Clancy has the hot hand, scoring nine of 12 three-point attempts in the past two games.
“I think it has made us more driven to keep number one now that we have it,” Clancy said. “It is such an exciting position to be in.”
With a 69-48 win over UC Davis at the end of last week and a 99-66 victory over Pacific during the weekend, Cal Poly has just six games left to hold on to their first place ranking.
“We know they are going to be really fired up to play us at their place,” head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “They are one of the better teams in the league.”
Mimnaugh admits a Big West title will depend on maintaining the same level of play the team has brought to the court the past two games.
“I think (our team) realizes that they’re playing really good basketball and everyone is going be trying to knock them off the top perch,” Mimnaugh said. “We have been struggling on the inside with some of our personnel. For our three-point shooters to kind of take over and pick up some of the slack we have missed on some of our inside scoring. I think this has been instrumental to our success this far.”
Junior forward Kristina Santiago, who tallied a career-high 15 rebounds against Long Beach in Jan., also knows that the team won’t be handed any wins in upcoming weeks.
“Just because we beat them by a lot last time, that doesn’t mean its going to turn out the same way,” Santiago said. “I know they are going to come out playing hard. It is going to be a dogfight.”
A major force for Long Beach State is senior guard Karina Figueroa. The second-team All-Big West player sits second in the league with 17 points per game and leads the conference with 124 assists.
“(Karina) is a big threat on the court,” Santiago said. “You always have to know where she is … she pretty much has everything.”
The 49ers got out to a 10-1 run in the first half against Cal Poly in their first match up this season. The Mustangs had difficulty getting their offense rolling.
“Last time we played them they showed us this really funky defense that caught us off guard at the start, but we we’re able to turn it against them and had a great team win,” Clancy said.
Continually recognized as a team player, Santiago emphasized how being on the 49ers radar helped her teammates fill some important roles. In that game, 14 players recorded at least two points for Cal Poly.
“(In the last game) they thought me and Rachel were pretty much the biggest threat on the court, but they opened up so many options of our offense,” Santiago said. “I highly doubt that they will do that again.”
Following tonight’s game, Cal Poly plays Saturday at home against UC Riverside (7-3) at home Saturday.
— Brian De Los Santos and Katherine Grady contributed to this article.