The Cal Poly women’s basketball team (10-7, 6-0 Big West) preserved its undefeated conference record after beating second-place UC Riverside (9-8, 3-2 Big West) Wednesday night. The Mustangs, who never trailed at any point of the game, earned a 57-48 victory against the Highlanders to remain atop the Big West Conference standings.
Sophomore guard Kayla Griffin opened up the game scoring Cal Poly’s first seven points. The Mustangs were able to follow up an early 16-9 lead with a 10-0 run, while outrebounding the Highlanders 16-8 and shooting 50 percent from the field.
But Cal Poly showed signs of fatigue as their 15-point lead diminished to just six by halftime. UC Riverside was able to capitalize on six Mustang turnovers in the last 5:46 of the half, to make the game 32-26.
Sophomore guard Caroline Reeves said the team was down having lost their large lead, but their spirits were turned around by the start of the next half.
“When we’re going to locker room at halftime everyone was a little bummed because we had committed some turnovers at the end of the half and we let them back in it,” Reeves said. “(Head coach Faith Mimnaugh) said there was no need to worry. We were up, and we just had to stay positive and keep pushing.”
The Mustangs came out strong again in the second half, pushing their lead back up to 13 points in the first four and a half minutes of the period.
UC Riverside chipped away at Cal Poly’s lead and crawled back to within three points with five minutes remaining. But the Mustangs were able to keep UC Riverside at bay and hold them to three points in those last five minutes to secure the win.
Reeves led all Cal Poly scorers with 15 points, while Griffin scored 11 points.
The Mustangs outrebounded the Highlanders 44-31, while outscoring them 20-0 on second-chance points. Griffin, who had a career-high 13 rebounds and center Abby Bloetscher who added 12 rebounds, powered Cal Poly’s rebounding.
Griffin said the recent obstacles they’ve faced this season with suspensions and injuries have kept the team motivated to win.
“Our team was a little down considering injuries and suspensions,” Griffin said. “But that made us come out even stronger as underdogs and made us want to play even harder as a team.”
Guard Ashlee Burns returned to the floor for the first time since the Mustang’s conference opener against Long Beach State. She scored eight points in the first half to help increase the Mustangs early lead.
The Mustangs shot 44.4 percent from the field — 50 percent on 3-pointers — but UC Riverside was able to keep the game close, earning 10 blocks and 16 steals.
Reeves said in addition to being undefeated, she knows the team can continue to play even better.
“Being on this win streak feels amazing and it’s really exciting,” Reeves said. “And I know we can play even better in these games.”
Mimnaugh said this game was just as important as the others and as players keep developing, other teams won’t know what to expect when facing Cal Poly.
“People come off the court and say, ‘Who were they?’” Mimnaugh said. “I think that’s just beautiful because it epitomizes what our team is about. When you’ve got a great team, anything can happen.”
The Mustangs will look to remain perfect in Big West play when they face Cal State Northridge Saturday at 4:00 p.m.