Editor’s Note: This is a companion piece to an interview with forward Kirsty Brown. You can read that here.
Cal Poly Women’s Basketball is currently having their best season since 2018, and after their potential Cinderella run in the Big West Tournament was ended early last year due to COVID-19, the team is looking to make a splash in the conference tournament as the No. 6 seed.
The success of this season has come in large part from players like sophomore point guard Abbey Ellis, who leads the Big West in points per game. Ellis discussed how the team is clicking so well this season and how they are looking forward to the conference tournament.
Reporter Austin McLellan interviewed Ellis and organized the interview into the Q & A below. Ellis’ answers have been edited for length and clarity.
In a season that is anything but normal, what has kept the team’s spirits high in moments of adversity, like games being canceled?
I think the team has been really grateful for the opportunities we have and I think that gratefulness has really put us in a positive position mentally and physically as well.
We knew coming into summer workouts that every game and every practice is an opportunity and we need to use that. That stuff helps keep our heads screwed on a bit.
What has been the philosophy of the team over the second half of the season and heading into the tournament?
We’ve changed as a team and we’ve started focusing more on us as an offensive team rather than focusing on the other team and what they do.
We’re just focused on playing our style of basketball, having more ball movement, and it’s showing when we’re winning. We have the fundamentals down on defense, so we’re working on our offense more heading into the tournament.
The team seems to have some awesome energy with one another this season, why do you think that is?
Since summer, a lot of the seniors had this attitude that we should really focus on being a team both on and off the court and we’ve gotten so close, it has shown in how we play.
Also, we’ve been having everyone work so well together, we realize that we can win without someone having to get 30 points by themselves. So I think that confidence boost has just made the energy and the flow even better and it’s always fun to see everyone scoring, everyone making big plays. I think it’s great for our team.
What has been one of the top moments of the team from this season so far?
It has to be that sweep against Long Beach. Even just winning the first game was great but the sweep put us into such a great position mentally going into the Big West Tournament even though we had Davis the next week.
We just know now that we can beat a team that good. The energy that whole week of practice was just really good and it just showed that this can be a championship team. And also, it’s always fun to have a buzzer-beating three.
Tell us about what happened with your final two shots in that buzzer-beating win over Long Beach.
With four fouls, my point guard coach told me not to attempt any steals and only play defense. The next time I’m on the court, I knew Long Beach would go to Justina King and I went in for the steal.
So after that steal tied it, everyone’s just stressed and as we move the ball down the court, I could see the clock ticking and when the ball came towards me all I was thinking was, “pocket it and shoot.”
As soon as it left my hand, I was like ‘That’s in.” It was great, that’s probably my best buzzer-beater.
How has the team been feeling as you head towards the Big West tournament?
We’re focusing on practice. Everyone’s putting in extra work and taking extra shots and definitely having a right mentality going to every drill. The energy is really good. We’ve practiced all this time just for this tournament. I think no matter what team we face at this tournament, we know we can beat them.
We’re going in with the mindset that even though we’re not the underdog, we’ve got to act like we’re the underdogs, but make sure just to play and have fun.
UC Davis is the number one team in the conference right now. What is it going to take to beat them in Las Vegas?
Honestly, it’s going to be our defense. I think offensively we know how to play them, but just containing them and not letting them penetrate the middle or have the opportunity for threes.
They’re very structured, they have a lot of ball movement, but we think they are very beatable. We made really good adjustments in the second game and I think that playing them was a reality check, showing we’ve got a bit to work on, but we’re not that far.
We know we can still keep up with them. So I think it was a good time to lose, right before the tournament.
What is the team most excited about with the upcoming Big West tournament?
We’re most excited about winning, we know the feeling of it from right before the heartbreak of the tournament last season. I think we just really want to win; every game doesn’t matter against who or how. Personally, I love winning, but, we love winning as a team since we’re all so close.
What is going to set Cal Poly apart from the rest of the conference at the tournament?
It’s our defense. When we’re locked in, we’re a very hard team to beat or even to penetrate. When we move as a team, back each other up and communicate, I feel like teams get intimidated by that. But I think if we come in with that defense on every possession in every game, teams won’t be ready for that.
Who on the team do you think is going to surprise a lot of people in how they play in Vegas?
It’s Maddie Vick. Last season she was out due to her knee but now this season, during every game she’s just getting better and better.
You just know she’s making more of an impact. Everything she does has a purpose and she’s always doing something. And we notice that we see that in practice every day but then it’s just so good to see during games when she can finally do what she does best.
She is a real threat, and hopefully, teams don’t scout that. I think she’s definitely a weapon that we have, but we have so many threats, KB (Kirsty Brown) is also a huge threat now, as well as Willie (Maddie Willett), one of our best shooters.
After defeating No. 3 seed Long Beach State in the first round of the Big West Tournament, the Mustangs will take on No. 2 seed UC Irvine at 3 p.m. on Friday, March 12.