Thursday’s 73-71 victory over UC Davis showcased every positive aspect of the Cal Poly women’s basketball team in the post-Kristina Santiago era.
There was dominance on the glass, lightning-quick scores and a lopsided scoring run keyed by aggressive defense.
There was just one hang-up, and it nearly cost the Mustangs (8-6, 2-1 Big West Conference) the game.
As much as the offense has maintained its prolific output despite its all-time leading scorer moving on to a professional team in Bulgaria, Cal Poly is allowing more points than it scores.
The Mustangs used a 13-0 first-half run to turn a four-point deficit into a double-digit halftime lead. But after keeping the Aggies (5-8, 0-2 Big West) at arm’s length for nearly three-quarters of the second half, the Mustangs’ 10-point lead shrank to two in just four minutes.
Brittany Woodard grabbed two crucial offensive rebounds in final 1:20, and Jonae Ervin sank a driving layup with 18 seconds left to seal a game that seemed to have long since been put on cruise control.
“It was getting really tight, and I could feel us playing kind of tight at the end,” Woodard said, “but all I was thinking was ‘I’ve got to get this board. I’ve got to get this board.’ And then it came to me again, and it was just ‘I’ve got to get this board.’ ”
One of the players who led the way in production in the wake of Santiago’s graduation, Woodard scored a career-high 21 points and finished with eight rebounds for a Cal Poly team that has had seven different players lead the team in scoring this season.
Ariana Elegado scored 16 points, including 5 of 10 shooting from 3-point range, and dished out five assists. Former Righetti High standout Molly Schlemer had 12 points to go with six rebounds, and Nikol Allison had eight points and nine rebounds.
All of the above players have emerged wonderfully from the shadow of Santiago, the two-time Big West Player of the Year who’s also the program’s all-time leading rebounder.
If there was a question of how the offense would fare without the dominant 6-foot-1 post player, it’s been answered with 67.6 points per game, the second-leading average in the conference.
Head coach Faith Mimnaugh “did a good job of giving every player confidence,” Elegado said. “She told me you’re a good point guard, and I just wanted to take advantage of that.
“Kristina Santiago, give her the ball, she could score. Now that she’s gone, we all have different roles. Who was going to step up? Who was going to be our leader? But as a team, we’ve had multiple players step up every game. Players just came in wanting to shoot more.”
Along with Ervin, who dished out a game-high six assists, Elegado makes up and all-point guard starting backcourt that has helped the team become one of the top 40 in the country in assists.
Whether against zone orman-to-man defenses, the Cal Poly guards’ strength is penetrating to set up diving post players like Woodard, Schlemer and Allison with easy layups.
Elegado leads the Mustangs with more than 13 points per game, and Woodard is averaging more than 10, a definite upgrade from her first season in a Mustangs uniform last year.
The former Nevada transfer missed a chunk of her junior season with an ankle injury but is playing healthy and without any of the first-year jitters.
“She was little bit tentative when she did get out there last year,” Mimnaugh said, “and now she kind of knows what to expect, and you can see what kind of player she is, really quite a prize for us.”
Woodard and the others helped Cal Poly outrebound UC Davis 19-6 in the first half, and the Mustangs still held a 36-25 rebounding advantage when things evened out in the second half.
But Cal Poly allowed UC Davis to shoot 51 percent from the floor, and despite the Mustangs’ high scoring totals, their 67.9 points allowed per game rank in the bottom of the conference.
Courtney French led the Aggies with 26 points, including 6 of 8 on 3-pointers, and Sydnee Fipps added 17 points and six rebounds before leaving the game with a leg injury late in the second half.
Of the three times the Mustangs allowed an opponent to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor in a game this season, it was Cal Poly’s first victory. Though, it might just be a byproduct of the team’s run-and-gun style.
“Our goal is to get more possessions,” Elegado said. “More possessions lead to more points.”