Before Saturday, not much was heard about Brittany Lange.
Partly, that was because the Cal Poly women’s basketball guard’s last name was Asplund prior to her October wedding.
The other reason is Kristina Santiago. The junior forward has been good enough this year, especially recently, to secure all of the spotlight and have Mustangs coach Faith Mimnaugh already declare the Righetti High graduate the best player Cal Poly’s ever had.
Though Santiago had another big night in Saturday’s 86-63 Big West Conference victory — the 400th in program history — over visiting Long Beach State, it wasn’t quite up to the scoring pace she’d set in the past three games, and Lange broke out to lead the Mustangs with 16 points.
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The 49ers (7-10, 3-2 Big West) used a triangle-and-two zone defense to neutralize Santiago inside and spot-up shooter Rachel Clancy outside, and Lange responded with her career high in scoring and went 4 for 6 from 3-point range to help the Mustangs (11-5, 4-1 Big West) sink a season-high 10 from outside.
Lange’s nine rebounds were also a career high and included seven offensive boards.
“We just knew that with the extra pressure ‘T’ was feeling,” said Lange, referring to Santiago by nickname, “other players had to step up, and I think everyone filled that role really well because almost everyone who played scored, and that helped the team a lot.
“My teammates just found me wide open for 3, so I just shot them. It wasn’t anything special I did. They just found me at the right time.”
Cal Poly’s supporting cast starred in a 15-6 run early in the second half that nearly doubled a 10-point halftime lead. Mimnaugh employed a Swiss Army bench, utilizing every player on the team and watching 14 of them score.
Just two days after scoring a career-high 34 points in an overtime win against Cal State Fullerton — her third straight game with at least 27 points — Santiago did not reach double figures until the Mustangs were able to leverage a 20-point lead with 12 minutes left to go.
She finished with 15 points and affected the game in other aspects, grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season and snatching four steals.
“Even though T got limited touches,” Mimnaugh said, “she played a great game. A 15-15, who’s going to be sad about that? “If they do double- and triple-team her, other people are going to be open. If they don’t, she’s going to punish them.”
By focusing on Santiago, Long Beach State chose its poison, and it appeared to be a more lethal version than the one the Titans (8-10, 4-2 Big West) selected in their 76-73 overtime loss at Mott Gym where Santiago was allowed to go wild.
The Mustangs won by double digits against a team comparable to the one that took them to overtime, and one of the biggest differences was the way it defended the conference’s leading scorer.
It would be interesting to think Cal Poly might be more dangerous when the defense does focus on its star.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Santiago said. “I mean, we just gotta take what the other team gives us. Last time, they were not double-teaming me as much so that’s what we took advantage of. This time, they were, so, we took advantage of everyone else on the court being able to get open and not have people on them.”