Credit: Courtesy | Cal Poly Athletics, 2022

Without its head coach, Cal Poly Women’s Basketball lost an overtime heartbreaker, 79-76, to Northern Arizona (NAU) on Saturday, Dec. 10 inside Mott Athletics Center.

The Mustangs (3-5) fought back in the fourth quarter against the Lumberjacks (5-6) but well-timed baskets forced overtime and the eventual Cal Poly loss.

In replacement of head coach Shanelle Stires, who was out due to illness, assistant coach Samba Johnson took the reins of the Mustangs.

In the first quarter, freshman guard/forward Sierra Litchie led the way with six points. With Litchie’s early effort and a pair of steals in transition, the Mustangs kept it tight and trailed NAU 22-17 after the first.

The Lumberjacks maintained their lead in the second quarter, outscoring Cal Poly 16-13, including a 5-1 run, to take a 38-30 lead into the halftime locker room.

Coming out of the half, it was the Mustang backcourt that made an immediate impact. Sophomore point guard Annika Shah hit a layup and a three-pointer before sophomore guard Jazzy Anousinh hit a shot on a fastbreak to bring the game to within one score.

“It was a big goal for us to prove we can play even if our head coach isn’t here,” Anousinh said.

Despite some turnovers, the Mustangs ended the quarter on a high note with an Anousinh layup as time expired. 

At the end of three, Cal Poly was down 56-47, but the game turned up in the fourth quarter.

The backcourt continued to bring the energy with Shah and Anousinh finding the bottom of the net to open up the fourth. Anousinh gave credit to Johnson on the bench for some of the fire the team found late.

“I think coach Johnson’s energy is great,” Anousinh said. “We have been talking all about celebrating each other and celebrating as a team.”

The score remained at 56-54 until the 5:47 mark, but a designed play after a timeout led to a three-pointer by graduate guard Nikola Kovacikova to take the lead at 57-56.

Shah and Anousinh continued to battle, scoring back-to-back buckets later to take a 63-58 lead with 2:35 remaining.

With the Mustangs up 64-62, graduate transfer Oumou Toure made her presence known in the paint, grabbing a pair of rebounds and two free throws to bring the advantage to 66-62. 

With 19 seconds left, NAU tied the game up with a pair of free throws. Cal Poly had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but Toure’s attempt was unsuccessful.

Early in overtime, both squads traded baskets until an NAU offensive rebound led to a defensive collapse for the Mustangs and gave the Lumberjacks an unguarded basket in the paint and the 73-71 lead. 

A questionable foul call then brought NAU to the line again, where they went 2-for-2 and took a four-point lead. 

“Jazzy made a great defensive effort, made the player pick up her dribble – it’s a questionable call,” Johnson said. “When you have a play like that down the stretch you let the teams decide, you don’t blow the whistle.”

“When I asked the refs they didn’t have an answer for me on why it’s a foul,” Anousinh said. “But we cannot let the refs dictate the game, we could have done a lot of things better.”

After free throws from both sides, the Mustangs had the ball with 15 seconds remaining and Litchie nailed a crucial three-pointer to cut the lead to 77-76 with three seconds remaining.

However, the Mustangs brought NAU to the line again and they sealed the deal with two more free throws.

When asked about what the team can take away from a game like this, Johnson responded that “we can compete with the upper echelon [of teams].”

Cal Poly will look to get back on track when they face Seattle University on Monday, Dec. 19 at 2 p.m inside Climate Pledge Arena.