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The Cal Poly women’s basketball team (8-7, 2-1 Big West Conference) dropped a key conference matchup against Long Beach State (16-1, 3-0) Thursday night at Mott Athletics Center.
The Mustangs were looking to overthrow the 49ers, the favorite to win the conference so far in the season.
Both teams came ready to play and started the game scorching hot.
The 49ers could not miss, making four out of their first five three-pointers to take an early 23-16 lead with 11:44 remaining in the first half.
On the other hand, the Mustangs took advantage of the 49ers’ extended 2-3 zone by flashing a player to the short corner by the baseline.
Senior forward Taryn Garza and sophomore forward Hannah Gilbert thrived in their roles down in the post.
Both players were perfect from the field in the first half.
Gilbert finished the first half with 10 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting. She was the best player for the Mustangs in the first half, her third strong consecutive game.
Despite strong post play by the Mustangs, the 49ers regained their composure and shut down the Mustangs’ offense the rest of the half.
They used their length and speed to implement intense ball pressure on the perimeter, and took away the Mustangs’ best offensive weapon, the three-point shot. The Mustangs only shot 1-of-10 from deep in the first half.
“They were switching up the defenses nearly every possession and it got us out of rhythm,” head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “They are so long and big that we didn’t get good looks at the basket in the first half. Our ball movement and player movement without the ball are areas we’re going to work on.”
More importantly, the 49ers completely shut down the Mustangs’ best player and offensive maestro, senior guard Ariana Elegado.
She finished the first half with only four points on 1-of-4 shooting from the field.
“They were changing defenses so often that it felt like they were playing a box-and-one on me,” Elegado said. “It was tough getting my shot off when there’s always a defender in help, but that’s when I dish it off to my teammates.”
Defensively, the Mustangs had no answer to the 49ers balanced attack. The 49ers shot a scorching 50% from the field on 17-of-34 shooting, and had four players make at least three shots from the field.
The Mustangs would finish the half shooting just 41%.
Going into halftime, the Mustangs trailed 41-30.
In the second half, the Mustangs continued their defensive woes and gave up an open layup, trailing 43-30.
In dire need of a basket, the Mustangs turned to Elegado. She finally broke free from the 49ers’ stifling defense and brought life to the Mustangs by hitting two pull up three-pointers. The buckets by Elegado kick-started a 5-0 run that brought the Mustangs within eight with 13:51 remaining.
The Leaupepe twins continued the momentum for the Mustangs by being active on both ends of the court. They were pests on the defensive end playing the passing lanes and were aggressive on offense.
Freshman guard Dynn Leaupepe led the Mustangs with a double-double with a season-high 27 points and 11 rebounds.
Her sister Lynn Leaupepe also had a strong all-around game, finishing with seven points, five rebounds, and five steals.
“We didn’t do a good job with on offense in the first half,” Dynn Leaupepe said. “I really focused on finding the open spots in the zone, and taking it strong to the hoop. Coach Mimnaugh challenged us to play tougher at halftime and we responded.”
Despite the strong play from multiple players, the Mustangs still trailed by 8 with only 2:01 remaining.
However, Dynn Leaupepe would go on to complete a three-point play off of a set play designed by Mimnaugh to bring the Mustangs within five with 1:59 remaining.
That was the closest the Mustangs would get the rest of the game.
The 49ers would hit their free throws and take care of the ball to ice the game out for a 85-74 victory.
“This loss hurts a lot, but we’re not going to get distracted,” Elegado concluded. “Tomorrow’s a new day and we’re going to prepare really hard to protect our home court on Saturday.”
Cal Poly will host defending conference champion CSUN Saturday at 4 p.m.