After a second straight double-digit loss in stunning fashion this week, Cal Poly women’s basketball head coach Faith Mimnaugh had her team in the locker room for more than 30 minutes of postgame talk.
The latest on-court results have been “horrid.” The Mustangs followed up Thursday’s 26-point loss to Cal State Northridge at Mott Athletics Center with an 85-72 loss to Long Beach State on Saturday at home.
But, players said, Mimnaugh kept the lengthy speech positive. Bumped from first place in the Big West Conference for the first time this season, Cal Poly (14-10, 8-3 Big West) seems suddenly lost defensively, finding few answers offensively.
Judging by the past two games alone, it’d be reasonable to perceive the Mustangs residing in the cellar. In reality, they’re still a half game out of first place with three weeks left in the regular season, and the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth and Big West Tournament title came with a second-place conference finish last season.
“Coach actually ended the conversation. The last 20 minutes was about positive things,” junior guard Ariana Elegado said. “She went down the line and talked about everyone, what we can do. She reminded us what we did really well during the preseason.
“Lately, it’s really been negative. The coaches’ remarks, it kind of just brought us down the whole week, but she said she’s going to show us film on Monday, all the positive stuff.”
Cal Poly could use some sort of pick-me-up.
After the Matadors torched the Mustangs for 83 points on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, the 49ers (14-11, 6-5 Big West) shot it even better.
With four players in double figures, Long Beach State shot 50.9 percent, including 7 of 16 from 3-point range.
Ella Clark looked like an All-American, even though the 6-foot-3 49ers forward comes from England.
Clark scored a game- and career-high 23 points on 9 of 11 from the floor, including tying her career high with three 3-pointers. She also grabbed a game-high four steals.
Hallie Meneses added 19 points, Lauren Spargo poured in 14, and Jade Wilson had 12 and nine rebounds for Long Beach State.
“Our defense was poor,” Mimnaugh said, “and we had two games in a row where we were having some real difficulty, not just with matchups but with communication about who had who, where we’re at. We left people undefended for easy layups today. We’ve spent a lot of time in half-court sets, and we have to spend more time in transition defense. It was horrid.”
Though Long Beach State did jump out to a 7-0 lead in the first 2½ minutes, Cal Poly fought back to tie it at 22 with 8:31 left before the break.
From there, the Mustangs went cold, going nearly six minutes without a field goal as the 49ers used a 15-1 run to end the half up 39-26.
Cal Poly missed seven straight shots and committed three turnovers during what turned out to be the decisive run.
The Long Beach State lead grew to 20 at its largest, and despite a furious Cal Poly rally that cut the deficit to 10 in the final three minutes, the early hole was too much to overcome.
“Once they get going, they can’t be stopped,” senior point guard Jonae Ervin said. “We have to shut them down and stop them, and these last two games, we haven’t had the right start from our players. We just dug ourselves into a hole and can’t get out of it.
“We all just need to look ourselves in the mirror and focus on us and what we’re good at and what we can help the team with. If something’s not working, find something that’s going to work.”
The storyline was almost a carbon copy of Thursday’s loss, “which carried over for a good portion of the night,” Mimnaugh said. “We became discouraged when the lead spread and they were knocking down shots. We shot too many 3s.”
The Mustangs ended up 8 for 28 from 3-point range. Elegado scored a team-high 22, including four from beyond the arc, but she started the game 0 for 7 from deep before ending up 4 for 15.
Senior center Molly Schlemer scored 19 points and grabbed a game-high 13
rebounds, hitting her first and only 3-pointer of the season during the deseperation run to get back in the game late.
Ervin, still playing on an injured hamstring, had 17 points, nine assists and just two turnovers.
Considering the near totality of the past two defeats, there were no easy answers when the locker room session broke.
“It’s not really like one pinpoint thing,” Schlemer said. “It looked like we were all giving up out there a little bit and just not coming together. If we all work hard together and work together than maybe we can all find what’s going on together.
“Teamwork makes the dream work, and we haven’t really been going by that. Stay positive and find the love of the game because that’s why we’re all here. We all love the game of basketball. So, just find some joy in that.”