The Cal Poly women’s basketball team is still hanging on to first place in the Big West Conference by half a game despite Thursday night’s blowout loss to Cal State Northridge.
But it had to be hard to feel like champions after the Mustangs failed to show up for a showdown with the second-place Matadors.
Cal State Northridge (12-13, 8-3 Big West) whipped Cal Poly (14-9, 8-2 Big West) in almost every facet of the game in an 83-57 victory the Matadors controlled from the opening tip at Mott Athletic Center.
“Gross,” was the first word that came to Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh’s mouth. “It was ugly. Offensively, we really struggled. We had no flow about us. We were impatient. We couldn’t shoot free throws.
“I apologize to all the people who came out to watch us.”
It was an uncharacteristically poor performance for the Mustangs, who had won nine straight home games to open the season, tied for the program’s best start, and were one win from tying the school record for consecutive home victories set in 1979-80.
Coupled with that, Cal State Northridge was on fire, and the Matadors now own two victories over Cal Poly this season. It’s the first time a road team has won since 2010 in what has been a competitive series with regular conference title implications.
The Mustangs certainly had an off game, but that doesn’t account for matchup advantages that Cal State Northridge has exploited this year. Come conference tournament time, Cal Poly could have to get by the Matadors to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament after the program’s debut there last season.
“We’ll definitely be concerned knowing we lost to them two times,” said junior guard Ariana Elegado, who scored a team-high 13 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out five assists, “but there’s still four more weeks of conference play, and if we do play them again, we have to buckle down and practice, give it all.
“I told the team I’d rather lose now than lose in the tournament. It’s a wake-up call. We obviously still have a lot to work on, but hopefully from here on out, we win.”
Cal State Northridge used a distinct strategy to help neutralize Cal Poly center Molly Schlemer, the reigning Big West Player of the Year also who came into the game leading the conference with 18.6 points per game.
While most teams worry about defending the 6-foot-5 Righetti product in the post, the Matadors put Schlemer to work on defense, forcing her to defend the high pick-and-roll, where she had trouble staying with Cal State Northridge’s quicker guards.
When Cal Poly went to its zone defense to negate the screen play, the Matadors were left open on the outside and hit those shots, too. The defensive woes led to Schlemer spending nearly half the game on the bench.
Cinnamon Lister led Cal State Northridge with 25 points, Ashlee Guay added 20 and five assists, and Janae Sharp scored 16. The trio of guards accounted for all 11 of the Matadors’ 3-pointers, too.
Cal State Northridge came into the game shooting 30 percent from 3-point range. The Matadors were 9 for 17 in the first half and finished 11 for 25.
Center Camille Mahlknecht also had a big game, scoring 10 points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking six shots.
“We knew coming in this game that it was going to be a tough game,” Elegado said. “Their guards are really talented and skilled, and they match up well, obviously, with our guards.
“That first half when they went on a run, it really shocked us.”
Cal State Northridge scored the opening basket on a jumper by Sharp and quickly pushed its lead to 24-6 in the first seven minutes of the game.
The Matadors led by 25 at the half and pushed their lead to as high as 30 in the second half.
Meanwhile, Cal Poly could do little right.
The Mustangs shot just 31.7 percent from the floor. And under constant pressure from Cal State Northridge’s aggressive man-to-man defense, Cal Poly was able to get to the free-throw line 30 times but hit just half of those.
The Mustangs had double-digit turnovers in the first half alone and finished with 18.
Elegado was the lone Cal Poly player to score more than 10. Schlemer finished with nine points and 11 rebounds. Taryn Garza had nine points and nine rebounds.
Freshmen Hannah Gilbert and Sarah Lipton came in off the bench to help spark a run that cut the lead to 14 points at 65-51 with 8:05 left.
Lipton had four rebounds and hit a 3-pointer, and Gilbert, a former Morro Bay High standout, was a point away from tying her career high with nine points and seven rebounds.
But within two possessions, the Matadors had their advantage back up to 19 and Cal Poly failed to threaten from there.
“There were some times in the second half,” Mimnaugh said, “where it looked like we were going to make a bit of a run, and then we come down and chuck up crap and lose that momentum that you’re trying to establish.”