As Hannah Gilbert jogged toward the bench during a timeout Thursday night, an all too familiar limp resurfaced for Cal Poly’s standout senior forward.
She went on to score six points and grab a game-high 13 rebounds during the Mustangs’ 61-53 loss against UC Davis in a Big West Conference women’s basketball game at Mott Athletics Center.
But the hobbling 6-foot-3 Gilbert attempted only six shots from the field — her fewest since a Dec. 10 loss at Grand Canyon — and played 23 minutes, well below her season average.
After the game, longtime head coach Faith Mimnaugh confirmed Gilbert is dealing with the same Achilles tendon injury that hindered her during the second half of last season.
“It’s hard to see her struggle with an injury because she is a very big part of our team,” said junior Emily Anderson, who scored a team-high nine points off the bench. “We just hope that she can make it through the season. We want her to get as much help as she can to make sure she stays as fresh as she can. We need her.”
Gilbert has been the model of consistency since she arrived on campus four years ago.
The Morro Bay High graduate and 2013 Tribune County Player of the Year has played in 110 games with 79 starts to her credit. Gilbert’s 13-rebound effort Thursday night moved her into No. 7 all-time in Cal Poly history with 610 career rebounds.
She became the 13th player in program history to score 1,000 career points during last week’s loss at Hawaii, and 21 more points will move her into the No. 10 spot on the all-time scoring list.
Mimnaugh said the nagging injury hasn’t forced Gilbert to miss practice time, but she’s been in a walking boot when she’s not on the court. The coaching staff plans to limit her minutes moving forward.
“She’s kind of like, ‘you know, this is my senior year, I’m just going to try to tough it out,’” Mimnaugh said.
With Gilbert on the mend, Mimnaugh opened up her rotation significantly against a talented UC Davis team, playing 14 Mustangs in their fifth loss in the last six outings. Anderson certainly took advantage of the extra playing time and made three 3-pointers in one of her better performances of the season.
Leading scorers Dynn and Lynn Leaupepe were held to 13 combined points on 6-for-22 shooting and committed 10 turnovers in the loss. Freshman Breezi Holt (eight points, two rebounds) and junior Nikki Fausey (six points, four rebounds) each provided sparks off the bench in their limited playing time.
But UC Davis, currently first in the Big West standings at 16-6 overall and 7-2 against conference opponents, forced 23 turnovers and prevented Cal Poly (7-13, 3-5 Big West) from building momentum offensively with its 3-2 zone defense.
“We wanted to utilize more of our bench,” Mimnaugh said, “and obviously some of our best 3-point shooters are coming off the bench with Emily and Mary Kate (Evans) and Breezi and Gabby (Grupalo).”
Sophomore point guard Dye Stahley, who had four points, four rebounds, six assists and three steals in a team-high 32 minutes, said the Mustangs spent the week preparing for the Aggies’ unorthodox defense but struggled at times to execute.
“We wanted to really get into the corners and look for the middle,” Stahley said. “Sometimes we didn’t really get it in there, but that was definitely our game plan.”
Cal Poly has a quick turnaround to prepare for a visit from UC Riverside at 4 p.m. Saturday. The Highlanders (11-10, 5-3 Big West) are coming off a rout of Hawaii on Thursday and have one of the most talented players in the conference in senior forward Réjane Vérin.
Vérin leads the Big West in scoring at 16.1 points per game, and is second in rebounding with more than eight per contest. It’s another challenge for the Mustangs defensively, and one Anderson believes they’re ready for.
“I think we’re all still very positive,” Anderson said. “We do think we can get any team. That’s how we go in everyday.”