After much speculation, senior guard Ariana Elegado returned to Cal Poly for one more season. | Mustang News File Photo

Rafael Salinas

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The Cal Poly women’s basketball team squared off against Dartmouth in the first game of the ShareSLO Holiday Tournament, which took place on Friday and Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend.

The Mustangs were unable to overcome a 15-point halftime deficit en route to a 74-61 loss on Friday against Dartmouth. On Saturday night, however, the Mustangs came out and dominated Texas A&M – Corpus Christi, 63-48.

Against Dartmouth, senior guards Kristen Ale and Ariana Elegado contributed 18 points apiece but were the only Cal Poly starters in double figures — the rest totaled eight points. The Mustangs’ loss can largely be attributed to a 24 percent first-half field goal percentage and a 37 percent free-throw percentage.

“(Dartmouth was) shooting such a high percentage that we were always taking the ball out of bounds,” head coach Faith Mimnaugh said.

The Mustangs are a team that likes to play fast in transition, and Dartmouth was able to take that away with the help of excellent shooting and 6-foot-1 sophomore guard Fanni Szabo, who leads the team in scoring and played in the FIBA U-20 basketball championship for Hungary this past summer.

However, the Mustangs shot 45 percent in the second half, which began with a scintillating 16-0 run. But the comeback attempt was stymied by poor defense. The Mustangs permitted Big Green to shoot 52 percent from the floor and take 23 attempts from the free-throw line in that second half, a recipe that resulted in the Mustangs pulling in as close as 10 but never closer in the 74-61 loss.

Cal Poly’s play against Texas A&M – Corpus Christi was the polar opposite of the game against Dartmouth. Ale and senior guard Taryn Garza both enjoyed career nights. Garza finished with 18 points, a career high, 10 rebounds and four steals and assists apiece. Ale tied her career high with five assists and finished with seven points as well.

“When we get aggressive on defense and force the other team into turnovers, it jump starts our offense completely,” Garza said.

The Mustangs were able to run in transition and move the ball effectively thanks to a whopping 17 steals, their most since a game against Long Beach State in the 2012-13 season.

With Cal Poly down 13-18 and 10:22 remaining, Garza hustled after a missed three-pointer, snatched the rebound and immediately went back up with the ball en route to a three-point play. It was a statement play and one that got the Mustangs rolling. From that point forward, the Mustangs hit the Islanders with a barrage of threes and played swarming defense.

Junior guard Beth Balbierz hit back-to-back threes in the first half, but her major contributions to this game were the type not seen on the stat sheet. Balbierz made hustle play after hustle play and routinely forced the Islanders into difficult shots that instigated positive plays for the Mustangs.

“She’s a really intelligent player, she makes everyone better on the court because she understands what it’s supposed to look like and where everyone’s supposed to be,” Mimnaugh said. “Obviously, she’s a deadly shooter so she’s also able to extend the defense.”

Balbierz knocked down back-to-back threes with seven minutes to go in the first half to extend the lead to 10. She would finish 2-of-5 from beyond the arc but didn’t seem satisfied with that shooting.

“If you go hard all the time, things are gonna pay off,” Balbierz said. “But I’m a little disappointed with 2-for-5,” she joked.

The Mustangs continued their first-half trend of swarming defense and fast-paced basketball, which translated into a blowout. But there was hardly a moment where they appeared to take their foot off the gas. They certainly didn’t appear sluggish after any Thanksgiving feasts that may have taken place over the weekend.

“I’m thankful for my family, my friends and the opportunity to play in college,” Balbierz said.

Garza also gave her thanks, saying, “I’m thankful for the opportunity to be here playing basketball, to have a great family that supports me and for loving people.”

Cal Poly travels north to face Santa Clara on Tuesday at 7 p.m. and returns to Mott Athletics Center on Dec. 14 to host Saint Mary’s.

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