Cal Poly men’s basketball coach Joe Callero wouldn’t mind if his Mustangs took on a little more of Victor Joseph’s personality during the final seven games of the regular season.
A slender 6-foot junior guard who transferred to Cal Poly from Chaffey College, Joseph has an aggressive scorer’s mentality that has shown through in spades over the past two weeks.
Joseph scored a game-high 22 points during Saturday’s 67-56 loss against UC Riverside and was the only Mustang to reach double-digit scoring. It was his fourth consecutive 20-point performance, two of which have come against veteran teams in UC Irvine and UC Davis that were ranked first in the Big West Conference standings at the time.
“Coach has been telling us we have great 3-point shooters on this team, and he wants to get up a lot of 3-point shots,” Joseph said. “That’s where he feels like our strength was.”
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That message was received loud and clear against the Highlanders, as 37 of Cal Poly’s 60 attempted field goals were behind the 3-point line. The Mustangs made 10 of their season-high 37 shots from beyond the arc but missed several open looks throughout a back-and-forth contest.
No team in the Big West has attempted more 3-pointers than Cal Poly’s 563 this season, and only UC Irvine (504) has attempted more than 500 shots from behind the 3-point line. Callero said after Saturday’s loss that “20 of those 37 shots, I thought, were outstanding, clean looks.”
Though Joseph made only 3 of his 13 attempts from beyond the arc, he went 6-for-9 when driving to the hoop and figures to be a key piece of the Mustangs’ offense moving forward.
That’s nothing new for the Rancho Cucamonga native, who averaged more than 21 points per game and was an all-Foothill Conference performer during his sophomore season at Chaffey. His natural scoring ability is a significant reason why Joseph landed at Cal Poly in the first place.
“You have to have a short memory,” Callero said. “Great shooters don’t worry about that last shot.”
With Joseph handling the bulk of the scoring load, the Mustangs seem to have turned a corner over their last four games. It started with a stunning 79-66 victory at UC Irvine, the first of three 22-point performances over the next four games for Joseph.
Cal Poly regrouped from a loss at Cal State Fullerton to upset then-first-place UC Davis at home on Thursday, which was perhaps the best three-game stretch of the season for a Cal Poly team that is 7-16 overall, 2-7 in the Big West and hasn’t won back-to-back contests since the first week of December.
“We keep getting better,” said senior forward Zach Gordon, who grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds Saturday against UC Riverside. “I believe in each and every one of the guys on the team. It just comes down to us putting it together.”
While it’s certainly been an uphill climb, the Mustangs still do many of things they’ve always done well under Callero.
Their 10.2 turnovers per game are the fewest in the conference, a mark that ranks No. 8 in the country. They’ve also overcome the loss of two impact players in Josh Martin and Jaylen Shead, and responded positively following a 10-game losing streak.
Senior guard Ridge Shipley, who is averaging a career-high 9.7 points per game and leads the team with 77 assists, has become more assertive and is creating scoring opportunities for his teammates. He flashed his scoring ability during a 27-point outburst against Long Beach State on Jan. 21.
Sophomore guard Donovan Fields adds a key spark off the bench with his on-ball defense and is third on the team in scoring at 10.2 points per game.
The pieces are there, Callero said, they just have to come together.
“We showed we can beat any team on any court,” Callero said. “That’s confidence building. The team needs to keep on building confidence, and the only way you build confidence is by executing and doing things the right way.”