The Cal Poly women’s basketball team (16-11, 12-4 Big West) was 16 minutes away from making history.
After clinching the program’s first ever co-share of the Big West title last weekend with their 61-48 win over Long Beach State, a win over No. 2 UC Santa Barbara would give the Mustangs the outright Big West Championship.
But clinging to a 40-36 lead in the second half, the Gauchos did their best to spoil their Central Coast rival’s ambitions.
The Gauchos (19-10, 12-4) downed the Mustangs with a 46-point second half to earn the second share of the Big West Championship Saturday afternoon in Mott Gym. It was the Mustangs’ first shot in history to be named sole Big West champions, but with the loss, they come out as co-champions.
It puts a blemish on one of head coach Faith Mimnaugh’s most successful seasons, but despite the loss, the Mustangs will still be the No. 1 seed in the Big West Tournament and host Cal State Fullerton in the first round on Tuesday night.
It was the Gauchos shooting that downed the Mustangs in the second half. After shooting 44 percent from the floor through the first 20 minutes, the Gauchos went on to shoot 57 percent in the second half. Overall, the Mustangs allowed UC Santa Barbara to shoot 50 percent.
The Mustangs weren’t as fortunate on the offensive side of the ball. They shot 35 percent in the first half and 40 percent in the second half. It was somewhat of an unusual characteristic of the Big West’s best scoring offense (71.4 points per game).
But the Gauchos’ defense was the story of the game from the start.
The Mustangs were able to run out to an 18-11 lead with 11 minutes, 39 seconds left in the game, but with two 3-pointers by Emilie Johnson, the Gauchos pulled ahead 20-19. From there, the Mustangs and Gauchos traded basket for basket with UC Santa Barbara heading into the break with a 32-31 lead.
After the break, the Mustangs were able to race out to a four-point lead off a layup by guard Kayla Griffin. Then the Gauchos’ offense woke up, and spoiled the Mustangs’ hope of being the sole champion of the Big West.
The Mustangs had two scorers post double figures against UC Santa Barbara. Guard Jonae Ervin scored a team-high 17 points and center Abby Bloetscher scored 16 points to go with her 12 rebounds.
However, UC Santa Barbara had three players post double figures, with one player scoring more than 20 points. Mekia Valentine scored a game-high 27 points, Johnson scored 18 points and Adrian Kelsey scored 17 points.
Valentine also boasted 20 rebounds to go with her offensive showing.