Tonight might be a rematch of the Cal Poly men’s basketball team’s snail-paced 43-39 win over Pacific last month, but Mustangs head coach Joe Callero said not to expect the same kind of score that had Cal Poly personnel scrambling for the record books.
Senior guard Shawn Lewis became the 16th Mustang to score 1,000 points that night, but that accomplishment was overshadowed by his team holding an opponent under 40 for the first time since 1985.
Since then, much has changed.
“I don’t anticipate being in the 40s at all,” Callero said. “If you look at how we’ve played in the last three or four games, we have a little more depth, we have a little more rhythm, we’re a little more aggressive. So, we’re getting more transition baskets, and there are a little more possessions in the game.”
The Mustangs (10-11, 5-4 Big West Conference) have scored 65 or more points the past three games, the first time they’ve accomplished that feat all season, and Chris O’Brien, Drake U’u and Ben Eisenhardt — who all missed time because of injury or illness in the past two months — are back to full speed.
Cal Poly also didn’t need to rely on leading scorer David Hanson for Thursday’s win over UC Davis, as the Mustangs pulled away for a 65-56 win despite Hanson’s 10-point, 3-for-10 off-night shooting.
This isn’t exactly the same team that was trying to win ugly during a three-game stretch of guarantee games against UCLA, San Diego State and Cal, and it’s mostly because an improved offensive efficiency by the Mustangs is providing both them and their opponents with more chances to score.
“You can see that level of flow to our team, it looks better,” Callero said. “Guys are accepting and playing their roles a little better. I don’t think anyone was ever not accepting it, but you have to embrace it, and you have to become really good with your role. It’s just a gradual steady improvement.”
Perhaps an even a bigger reason why tonight’s game at 7 against the visiting Tigers (13-9, 5-4 Big West) isn’t likely to follow the same script as the earlier meeting: Pacific is on fire.
Since the Jan. 6 loss to Cal Poly in Stockton, the Tigers are 5-2 and have been held under 70 points just twice. After shooting 2 for 23 from 3-point range against the Mustangs, Pacific has put on an outside shooting clinic.
In conference play alone, the Tigers lead the Big West with 9.1 3s per game, a 42.5 shooting percentage from 3-point range and have four of the top seven 3-point percentage shooters in the conference — including Big West leader Jose Rivera (47.9).
Pacific was 15 for 21 on 3s against UC Davis two weeks ago and is coming off a 74-68 win at UC Santa Barbara on Thursday where the Tigers shot 12 for 19 from 3-point range.
It’s going to be strength on strength.
The Mustangs came into the week atop the Big West and ranked third in the country in 3-point percentage defense (26.9) and forced UC Davis into a 2-for-14 effort from 3-point range Thursday.
Though both teams are sure to have made adjustments to each other since the previous game, the key matchup is going to remain the same.
All eyes will be on Pacific’s perimeter shooting and whether Callero’s defense is going to be able to slow it down.
“We just didn’t give them anything easy, and they weren’t able to knock down shots,” Hanson said. “They weren’t shooting the ball well at that time as they are now, but we didn’t give them easy looks, and they didn’t get a ton of flow.
“A good part of it is the coaches do a great job of preparing us to find their shooters and how to play defense on that. They do a great job of preparing us, and then we’ve been able to execute to this point.”
Mustangs game at Fullerton picked up by ESPNU
Cal Poly’s Feb. 26 game at Cal State Fullerton will be broadcast by ESPNU, bringing the Mustangs’ total number of televised games to six, a program best.
Tipoff at Titan Gym has been pushed back to 8 p.m. to accommodate the network.
It will be the first time this season Cal Poly will be featured on any of ESPN’s platforms, but it may not be the last.
The semifinals of the Big West Tournament are also scheduled to air on ESPNU in March. The championship game will be shown on ESPN2.