The Cal Poly women’s basketball team beat an NCAA Tournament program, improving to 2-0 on the year, Wednesday — the first thing it did after learning Kristina Santiago would be out for the season.
Santiago, a senior forwardand the reigning Big West Conference Player of the Year, found out after an MRI exam Tuesday that she would need surgery to repair the ACL in her left knee, which she tore after two minutes of play in the team’s season opener at Seattle on Friday.
Not receiving the results of the exam until after the Mustangs had already left for Fresno, where they defeated Fresno State 72-67, she did not have time to address the team in person.
But, really, the results of the test only confirmed the worst suspicions.
Santiago, who tore her right ACL at the end of her junior season at Righetti High, was only holding out hope that she could return to lead the program to its first Big West title and NCAA Tournament berth this season.
“I was really unsure what it could be,” Santiago said, “mostly because I was hoping for the best. All I knew is it was a different kind of feeling than my other knee, which was why I was feeling it wasn’t an ACL, but it was a lot more painful than my other knee. So, I was sure it was something bad.”
She was in the top 20 in the nation in both scoring and field goal percentage last season, when she averaged 19.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
Santiago will redshirt this season and be eligible to return for Cal Poly next October. With surgery scheduled for early December, projections would put Santiago back on the court by next August.
After tearing her ACL in high school, she was playing games eight months after surgery.
That was by far the longest break Santiago has ever had since she started playing sports.
“I’m already planning on coming back next season even stronger,” Santiago said. “I’m kind of looking at this in a positive way. This is going to be a long time to let my body heal.”
The Mustangs have performed without her.
Junior sharpshooter Ashlee Burns exploded for 22 points against the Bulldogs (2-1), nailing 5 of 7 from 3-point range, and Rachel Clancy and Abby Bloetscher chipped in 12 points apiece. Bloetscher added a team-high seven rebounds, and redshirt freshman guard Jonae Ervin had 11 points and three steals.
Fresno State ran undefeated through Western Athletic Conference play en route to an NCAA Tournament berth last season, and the Bulldogs were averaging 97 points per game in their first two contests this year.
The Central Coast will get its first look at the Santiago-less Mustangs when Cal Poly returns for its home opener against Loyola Marymount on Friday. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Mott Gym.
PORTERVILLE 73, CUESTA 66
Despite getting 18 points and 13 rebounds from former Paso Robles High standout Kati Sheldon, the Cougars fell on the road.
Sheldon was 9-of-13 shooting.
Jayme Salim added 15 points for Cuesta (1-2), while Rachael Warner had 12 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Alex Shew had 30 points and 15 rebounds to lead Porterville (3-1), which pulled away in the second half.
— Tribune staff contributed to this report.