Cal Poly fell to UC Santa Barbara for the first time since 2011 on Thursday night. | Ian Billings/Mustang News File Photo

Keenan Donath 

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In a rematch of last year’s Big West Tournament Championship game, the Cal Poly women’s basketball team (8-8, 3-1 Big West Conference) defeated Cal State Northridge (12-6, 2-2) in Mott Athletics Center by a score of 63-54. The theme of the night was #breaktherecord, a promotional attempt to break the program’s all-time single-game attendance record of 2,552, but despite the big win,  the night’s attendance (2,047) came up short.

Starting the game impressively, the Mustangs hovered at a double-digit lead for much of the first half. Senior guards Ariana Elegado and Kristen Ale were very effective, leading the team in scoring with 10 and eight points, respectively. A collectively energized Mustang defense only yielded 24 points to the Matadors in the game’s first 20 minutes.

Postgame, head coach Faith Mimnaugh talked about how defending the Matadors’ top three guards, seniors Janae Sharp, Ashlee Guay and Cinnamon Lister, was critical for the team’s success.

“Defensiveley, we played their big three, their guards, much better than we played them last year. So I was really pleased with our focus and understanding how to beat a really good team,” Mimnaugh said.

The Matadors opened the second half aggressively, riding a steady wave of points from their Big Three. Cal State Northridge took the lead with 16 minutes to play, but a corner 3-pointer by Cal Poly junior guard Beth Balbierz put the Mustangs within one, and a quick floater in the lane by Elegado gave the Mustangs the lead at 39-38. Cal Poly never looked back from there.

“I think we definitely fed off the energy of the fans,” Elegado said. “We have so many fans, which made it even more exciting.”

The Matadors kept fighting. The 3-point shooting of senior guards Janae Sharp and Cinnamon Lister was enough to keep the Cal Poly defense honest and on its toes. Cal State Northridge has five returning starters from last year’s championship team, compared to the Mustangs’ noticeably youthful squad.

“We have been talking to them about developing a little bit of swagger,” Mimnaugh said. “When you have such a young group, sometimes you see a lot of hesitation.”

Cal Poly played the bulk of the second half with stout defense and confident possessions. When Elegado rattled in a mid-range jumper with less than two minutes to play, victory became imminent.

A strong shooting night for Elegado gave the senior guard a game-high 22 points to go along with four assists and four steals. Ale had six rebounds to go along with her 10 points.

The Mustangs play at Cal State Fullerton on Jan. 22 at 7 p.m.

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