A lot was on the line for the Cal Poly women’s basketball team Thursday night. For the first time this season, the Mustangs almost saw their first place spot in the Big West slip away after back-to-back losses to UC Riverside and last-place Cal State Northridge.

Ryan Sidarto — Mustang Daily

A loss to seventh place Cal State Fullerton would enable Cal Poly’s Central Coast rivals, UC Santa Barbara, to slip into first.

But, behind a second-half surge, the Mustangs (15-10, 11-3 Big West) were able to return to their winning ways Thursday night, defeating Cal State Fullerton (9-19, 5-10) 78-58 and snapping their two-game skid.

Despite not getting the start, and missing the last two games with a partial tear in her meniscus, guard Jonae Ervin was subbed in three minutes into the half and stimulated the Mustangs’ offense early on.

After Cal Poly committed five turnovers in the first six minutes of play, Ervin helped end an early Mustang scoring drought by dropping seven points in a row to give Cal Poly a 15-10 lead.

Ervin said when she got out on the court, she forgot about her knee, and just focused on helping her team win the game.

“I didn’t think about my knee at all,” Ervin said. “I thought about the moment when I’m on the court. When I didn’t think about it, I was just able to play through it.”

Ervin was able to connect on five of her first six baskets, and her 11 first-half points helped Cal Poly hold onto a slim 31-30 lead at halftime.

Head coach Faith Mimnaugh said she was confident in her team’s ability to continue fighting and pull off the win.

“There is a reason that we are here (in first place),” Mimnaugh said. “This team in particular just has something really unique about them. They are just able to fight through everything.”

Determined not to let the game slip away against another Big West team, and fighting to retain control of first place, the Mustangs came out resilient to start the second half.

Cal Poly was able to hold Cal State Fullerton scoreless in the first five minutes of the half, pushing its lead to 11 on a 10-0 run.

From there the Mustangs never looked back.

Cal Poly shot 60 percent from the field and scored 47 points in the half. The Mustangs were led by guard Caroline Reeves who scored a game-high 16 points, followed by Ervin who finished with 13 and centers Abbey Bloetscher and Molley Schlemer who each added 12.

The Mustangs Big West-leading 3-point shooting was sparse as the team only attempted seven from beyond the arc, but scored 48 points inside the paint.

Reeves said that after Bloetscher’s big 29-point game the last time the two team’s faced, Cal Poly focused more on its inside game.

“One thing we keyed in prior to the game is that they didn’t have a big post presence,” Reeves said. “They kept doubling on Clancy so we were really looking inside a lot.”

With the victory, the Mustangs were able to retain first place in the Big West, and kept UC Santa Barbara one game back.

The win marked a major milestone for Mimnaugh, who became the fifth coach in Big West history to earn 100 Big West victories. She was honored in the locker room after the game with a plaque and congratulated by Cal Poly alumni and Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong.

However, Mimnaugh remained modest about the accomplishment, and said more praise should be directed toward her players.

“As a coach, I’ve never shot a single basket,” Mimnaugh said. “It really is a reflection of the players I’ve been able to coach. I’m grateful for my opportunities here at Cal Poly. The greatest reward for me is getting to coach some really, really awesome young players.”

Cal Poly, which has remained undefeated at home this season against conference teams, is looking to preserve its home-court advantage as the Mustangs host their last two conference opponents in Mott Gym. They will face Long Beach State this Saturday at 7:00 p.m. and UC Santa Barbara March 5 at 4:00 p.m.

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