[follow id = “JLauing”]
Ariana Elegado looked like an unstoppable force.
Each time the junior guard cut her Cal Poly’s once 20-point deficit with crowd-pleasing 3-pointers, the possibility of a comeback loomed.
Then she met Cal State Northridge’s Ashlee Guay.
The Big West Player of the Year proved too much for Cal Poly to handle, as the Mustangs fell 73-59 in the Big West Tournament finals, denying Cal Poly back-to-back titles.
Guay — the tournament MVP who led all scorers with 25 points — shot 50 percent from the field and sank 3 of 6 from downtown. Cal Poly’s 48 rebounds and eight blocks weren’t enough to keep Guay in check.
“Defensively I thought our game plan was solid,” head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “Strategically, we were in a pretty good position to disrupt Northridge as much as possible. It was really our offense that really struggled today.”
The Mustangs came out ice cold in the first half, shooting a mere 19.4 percent from the floor. They ended up committing 17 turnovers on the night, compared to the Matadors’ five.
“For some reason we always start off slow,” Elegado said. “For some reason we always miss a lot of shots at the beginning. That’s how it goes. Sometimes you can’t start off perfect.”
Senior center Molly Schlemer, the tournament MVP a year ago, missed all eight of her field goals heading into halftime. After putting up 29 points in the tournament semifinals against Hawaii on Friday, she was double-teamed by Cal State Northridge for most of Saturday’s championship game.
“I didn’t really do a good job reading that,” Schlemer said “I panicked. I didn’t have a lot of poise. I should’ve kicked it out a couple times. Their defensive planning against me is probably the best in the conference.”
It was Elegado who gave Cal Poly a glimmer of hope in a contest that belonged to Cal State Northridge from the start. In a ten minute stretch, Elegado found the net eight times, including a trio of 3-pointers in 3 1/2 minutes.
Elegado turned to a group of Cal Poly fans, largely represented by her family, after a few of her miraculous three-balls. The senior usually plays with a lot of emotion and responded through tears when asked about having her family in the crowd.
“I thought that was everything,” Elegado said. “It felt really good. I wish we could’ve came up. But we fell short. Just having my family there, I thought we had the momentum. I thought we all had energy. But you know you can’t win everything in life.”
Saturday’s defeat marked Cal Poly’s third loss against the Matadors this season.
The Mustangs’ lost a nail-biter on Cal State Northridge’s home court in January, and got smacked around by the Matadors in Mott Athletics Center in mid-February.
“The first game was really tight, it really came down to one possession with under a minute to go,” Mimnaugh said. “The second game was crap. I think our team would say to you that we played like crap, I coached like crap, it was just crap. Today, we competed, we just didn’t have our offensive game. That was it. Sometimes you have those games where nothing’s really falling for you.”
As the Matadors advance to the NCAA Tournament, Mimnaugh is “quite sure” Cal Poly will get an National Invitation Tournament (NIT) bid, along with a few other Big West Conference teams.
Still, a year removed from taking home the Big West tournament crown, the air was sober for Cal Poly following the loss.
At the press conference following the game, Schlemer gestured to the sounds of Cal State Northridge cutting down the Honda Center’s nets.
“It’s just not a good feeling at all,” she said. “I would rather be feeling like that out there.”