Cal Poly women’s basketball began their final road trip of the 2021-22 regular season with a last-minute, come-from-behind loss to the UC Irvine Anteaters by a score of 67-66 on Thursday, Mar. 3 at the Bren Events Center in Irvine.

The loss is Cal Poly’s (3-20, 2-12 Big West) sixth straight to secure them the lowest seed in the Big West Tournament. Meanwhile,  UC Irvine (18-10, 13-4 Big West) continued their stellar season and ensured that they will be no lower than the two seed come the start of the tournament on Tuesday, Mar. 8.

On a happier note for Cal Poly, graduate forward Kirsty Brown got the start for the Mustangs, and in doing so, officially became the program’s all-time leader in games played with 125. She passed Jonae Ervin, who had held the record since 2014 with 124.

Despite UCI’s dominance against Cal Poly the past few seasons—the Mustangs had dropped five straight against them going into Thursday—, it appeared as though it would be the Mustangs’ game to lose. A back-and-forth first quarter ended with Cal Poly down by just three, at 18-15, after Irvine had jumped out to two six-point leads in the quarter

The second quarter, however, was all Mustangs, as they outscored the Anteaters 15-9. And, after battling back to within one and drawing a shooting foul, two free throws from redshirt freshman Sarah Dimitrescu gave Cal Poly the 22-21 lead with 7:37 to go in the half. 

That lead would extend to as many as six throughout the rest of the quarter and would remain with Cal Poly the rest of the first half, as the Mustangs entered the break up 30-27.

Coming out of the half, it looked as though the Mustangs were on their way to earning their strongest victory of the season. For the first 10 minutes of the half, it was the defense for Cal Poly that did the most, as they were able to create more opportunities to score by forcing bad shots and winning the rebounding battle. 

This was successful, as they forced UC Irvine to go just 2-9 from three in the quarter, and outrebounded them 11-10. As a result, despite each team scoring 15 in the quarter, the Mustangs still found themselves with the 45-42 lead heading into the final quarter of the contest.

As the fourth quarter progressed, however, it seemed as if it was a completely different game defensively from the first three. While the Mustangs put up 21 points, last-minute mistakes on both sides of the ball wound up costing them the game. 

With the Mustangs leading 64-63 with 22 seconds left, the second-place Anteaters made two free throws to regain the lead. An offensive foul by Cal Poly on its ensuing possession forced freshman Jazzy Anoushinh to foul UC Irvine again. After Kayla Williams made two more free throws for the Anteaters to go up 67-64, Cal Poly made a layup to cut it to one. 

Another intentional foul sent Williams to the foul line again, but this time she missed both shots. However, she got her own rebound and was fouled again with seven seconds left. Despite Williams once again missing both free throws, the Mustangs were unable to get a shot off before the buzzer and fell to UCI 67-66.

Despite the loss, the Mustangs were the much better shooting team, as they went 51.9% (27-52) from the field and 36.4% (4-11) from three, compared to Irvine’s 32.3% (20-62) and 26.5% (9-34), respectively. 

Statistically, junior forward Julia Nielacna (16 points, 6 rebounds) along with sophomore guard Junie Dickson (13 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block, 1 steal) and senior Hannah Scanlan (12 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks) led the way offensively for the Mustangs.

The Mustangs will face UC San Diego in their last game of the regular season on Saturday, Mar. 5 at 4 p.m. inside RIMAC Arena.

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