Cal Poly women’s basketball coach Faith Mimnaugh saw her defense switch a screen and had to know UC Irvine would attack the mismatch.
With guard Caroline Reeves trying to hold her own in the middle post against bruising Anteaters forward Mikah Maly-Karros — the team’s leading scorer — Mimnaugh begged across the court for defensive help.
But with the Mustangs holding a slim four-point lead with just under 4 minutes left in their Big West Conference opener at Mott Gym on Monday, were Mimnaugh’s repeated pleas going unheard?
“I feel like they’re always yelling that,” junior guard Rachel Clancy said. “So …”
That’s probably a yes. Clancy popped in anyway, sneaking up the baseline to steal a pass intended for Maly-Karros and force UC Irvine (3-11, 0-2 Big West) to begin fouling down the stretch in what ended a 73-61 win for Cal Poly (8-4, 1-0 Big West).
“In my opinion, she is one of our best, if not the best, team defensive players,” Mimnaugh said of Clancy. “If she has to play somebody who’s a main scorer, I don’t think she’s nearly as effective as being able to free her up to roam and play help defense.”
Clancy also scored a career-high 24 points to make the 14-year Mustangs head coach’s little-publicized birthday a happy one.
Cal Poly forward Kristina Santiago had 19 points and 11 rebounds for her second double-double of the season. Santiago also set a career high with 11 made free throws. She and Clancy were the only Mustangs in double figures scoring, but Christine Martin pitched in with eight points, and Becky Tratter had eight.
Mustangs guard Desiray Johnston had six points, five rebounds and five assists to just one turnover.
Maly-Karros, who was averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds per game, scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds for UC Irvine but was held to just 5 of 15 from the floor.
Clancy was 8 of 11 from the field, including 5 of 6 in a first half where she was perfect inside the 3-point line.
“She’s a tremendous scorer,” Mimnaugh said. “I would never leave her open at the 3-point line if I could help it, but even at practice were like, ‘Hello? Rachel? You don’t want to leave her.’ She’s got enough motion on the court that people lose her and she’s a tremendous weapon to have.”
Clancy came into the game shooting .532 from the field, a very good percentage for a spot-up shooter that leads the team in 3-point attempts.
She was averaging nine points per game and had a team-leading 53 defensive rebounds coming in but had been finding it increasingly to get shots in her first year in the starting lineup.
After starting the season on a hot streak, Clancy was shut down in a 73-65 loss at home to San Diego in the sixth game of the season and said that game inspired her to be more aggressive.
The team has won five of its past six since that defeat.
“I consider myself more of a spot-up shooter as opposed to doing it off the dribble,” Clancy said. “But after our USD game, that was the game that really opened my eyes to the fact that I can’t just sit around and wait for people to pass to me without dribbling the ball. So I’ve been trying to do more off the dribble because people tend to close me out really, really hard.”