It was still too early in the year to worry too much, but Ariana Elegado’s shooting touch was one of the underlying themes to the start of the Cal Poly women’s basketball team’s season.
As much as she had the hot hand last year, the junior guard was missing it in the Mustangs’ first four games.
But Elegado finally found her groove in Thursday’s 82-57 victory over visiting Nevada at Mott Athletics Center, thanks to some extra shooting practice on the side.
“I’ve been pretty frustrated with myself the whole week,” Elegado said, “and I kept telling myself, I’m a good shooter. My coaches made me watch film from the last season. So, this whole week I spent in the gym after class by myself listening to music. I’m pretty sure that paid off.”
Elegado came into the game shooting 22.6 percent from 3-point range, a far cry from the 38.4 percent she shot last season.
But after the Wolf Pack (2-2) jumped out to an 8-0 lead to start, Elegado nailed six of nine 3-point attempts to finish with a game-high 24 points in the rout by Cal Poly (2-3), which has now won two straight at home after starting 0-3 on the road.
“For her,” Mustangs head coach Faith Mimnaugh said, “the competition that we played early on, she had to do a lot more creating off the dribble, and that led to a lot of energy spent creating and less time to just catch and shoot, and today she had more opportunities to just catch and shoot, largely because other players were contributing.”
Facing off with 6-foot-7 Nevada center Mimi Mungedi, Cal Poly’s Molly Schlemer finished with 15 points and nine rebounds. Guard Jonae Ervin had eight points, nine assists and a career-high eight rebounds. Freshman Morro Bay High product Hannah Gilbert had a career-high 10 points filling in for Schlemer off the bench.
And redshirt freshman Maddison Allen had eight points, 10 rebounds and a game-high four blocks to spearhead a defensive effort that held the Wolf Pack to just 26 percent shooting from the field.
“Maddie was all over the place,” Mimnaugh said, “blocking shots and playing great defense and was a nice spark for us offensively, too, which is a nice developing part of her game.”
Said Allen: “We scattered really well. Molly did a really good job. Their big usually shoots like 77 percent. She did a really good job of stopping her and knowing their personnel.
“It’s just effort. When she’s that big, you just got to work hard. I’m long, It’s probably not the best defense, but I’m long. That’s it.”
Mungedi, who was shooting 76.9 percent from the floor this season, scored a team-high 11 points for Nevada, but the Cal Poly front court limited her to just 5-of-17 shooting.
She was the only Wolf Pack player in double figures. Emily Burns, Arielle Wideman and Treilyn Moe scored nine points apiece.
Mungedi opened the game with a layup, and Burns hit two 3-pointers in the first two minutes to give Nevada the lead.
On the other end, Allen missed a layup and Nwamaka Ofodu failed to connect on consecutive 3-point attempts. Cal Poly cut the lead to 10-8 by the game’s first timeout with 15:53 left in the first half.
From that point on, it was a different game.
“We all looked at each other and said, we’ve gotta get one stop, and it all starts with defense,” Elegado said. “After that media timeout, we just came out super strong. We knew we could pull this one out easily if we just got on defense.”
Cal Poly would go on to build a lead that stretched to 20 points in the first half by putting together a 21-2 run that included a 6-minute, 38-second Wolf Pack scoring drought.
The Mustangs led 44-25 at the half and didn’t let the lead dip below 17 points for the rest of the game.
Flashes to the high post in transition got Schlemer back-to-back buckets early in the game. Cal Poly had gone the first 3:39 without a field goal, but after that shot 50.8 percent from the floor.
“We needed that,” Mimnaugh said. “I was like, ‘Oh man. They’re starting out on fire here.’ We were able to get some good looks. Us being able to hit that high post shot against their zone and short-corner shot against their zone, some attacks from the short corner, were critical to opening things up for some other people.”