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The Cal Poly women’s basketball team doesn’t face the Princeton offense often, making the style of play — which involves fast cuts, constant motion and confusing back-door cuts — difficult not only to game plan for, but to execute against.
You wouldn’t know that based on Thursday night’s performance in the Mott Athletics Center, though, where the Mustangs (10-9, 5-2 Big West Conference) held UC Davis’ usually potent offense to just 38.7 percent shooting from the floor (24-for-62) and kept their composure throughout against the brand of offense unique to the Big West Conference.
“We were really clued in to what they were doing offensively,” head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “We made a few mistakes, more than one, but in the end I thought that we really played the system as well as I’ve seen us play it in the past.”
The Aggies (8-10, 3-3) tried the entire night to find the quick, unexpected pass down low on offense, but the Mustangs didn’t bite once, sticking to their assignments in both the first half — where they jumped out to a 35-26 lead — and the second half, where they sealed the 72-64 victory.
“In the Princeton, if you overplay passing lanes, you’re going to get ripped apart with backdoors,” Mimnaugh explained. “So we tried to go a little bit softer in gaps and we kind of got their system down a little bit … But (to not get) back doored one time? That’s got to be a record since I’ve been here.”
Beyond X’s and O’s, the Mustangs’ fast pace, coupled with several turnovers off pure hustle plays, gave them the confidence they needed to dictate the pace of the game inside their home gym.
In the first half, Cal Poly’s offense was able to find open shots with extra passes and an inside-out approach that picked apart the Aggies’ zone. Much of that firepower came in one way or another through senior forward Taryn Garza, who had eight points and three assists in the half.
“They’re bigger, yeah, but we didn’t let that affect us,” Garza said. “The mindset is always just ‘go,’ it doesn’t matter how big someone is, so we all just worked hard and tonight focused on passing the ball a lot and finding the open players.”
The Mustangs’ biggest lead of the half, which they carried into the break, came in the final seconds when senior guard Kristen Ale hit a 3-pointer for the nine-point advantage. Ale finished with four 3-pointers on eight attempts to tie her career high. She also led all Mustangs with 17 points.
Coming out of the break, the Mustangs showed no signs of letting up. A jumper by Garza on Cal Poly’s first possession cued a 14-6 run that extended the Mustangs’ lead to 17, the largest of the game.
Again, the capstone of the run was off an Ale 3-pointer, this time coming off an assist from freshman guard Dynn Leaupepe.
The Mustangs offense also was also helped by a gritty performance that had the Mustangs repeatedly getting to the basketball first throughout the night.
Garza notched her second double-digit rebounding performance in as many games, as well as a season high with 14, despite fouling out with four minutes left to play. Six rebounds from Dynn Leaupepe and eight from sophomore guard Rachel Koehler off the bench helped Cal Poly finish the night with a 50-38 rebounding advantage over the Aggies.
“Amazing,” Ale said of Garza’s work on the boards. “Taryn gets every board no matter who’s guarding her. She’s only 5-10, these girls are 6-3, 6-4, and she still gets boards over them, so it definitely helps having her on the team. It made it look like we were 10 times our height.”
In the game’s final 10 minutes, the Aggies strung together a few rebounds of their own to help them fight back to within five. The 8-0 run, which was aided by two Mustangs turnovers, also included two rebounds and a 3-pointer from senior forward Sydnee Fipps. Fipps finished with a game-high 19 points.
That would be the closest they’d get, however, as the Mustangs played bigger, faster and flat-out scrappier on defense until the final whistle.
“We really tried to come out of this game with pressure defense, diving on the floor, getting in their heads,” Ale said. “We really did a good job with that the whole game, so I’m really proud of the team for keeping up the defense the whole time.”
Stemming the short drought for Cal Poly’s offense was a 3-pointer from junior point guard Lisa Marie Sanchez, which just barely beat the shot clock buzzer after they almost botched the clock-draining possession. But it was just that kind of night for the Mustangs, who moved up to second in the Big West, just one game behind Long Beach State (4-1).
“As we keep going game by game, we keep learning, and at practice we’ve been working hard on our offense, making smart passes, taking care of the ball, and it’s working for us,” Garza said.
In regards to Thursday night, Ale put it a bit more simply: “We just had the heart on defense, we had more heart than they did so we won the game.”
Cal Poly will continue its weekend homestand Saturday when it faces UC Irvine at 4 p.m. The game will be this year’s Special Olympics Night for the women’s team — all past and present Olympians get in for free.