The Cal Poly women’s basketball team long ago proved it can win without Kristina Santiago. Being minus Jonae Ervin, however, is another story.
The Mustangs shrugged off a two-game losing streak without their sophomore point guard as Ervin came back from a knee injury to score 13 points and hand out five assists in a 78-58 victory over visiting Cal State Fullerton on Thursday.
“Jonae just has a different gear,” Mustangs head coach Faith Mimnaugh said, “and I’ve never seen that gear personally out of my own body and very few people have. She just has an amazing ability to be able to get to the basket and that generates a lot of points.”
Caroline Reeves scored a game-high 16 points while also shutting down the Big West’s third-leading scorer, freshman center Molly Schlemer returned from illness to score 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting and Mimnaugh became the fifth Big West women’s coach to earn her 100th conference victory.
Mimnaugh quipped that another coach might have gotten there faster than her 14 seasons but sincerely thanked the administration for sticking by her through the years.
She might have gotten that 100th victory a little sooner if not for the Mustangs’ mini-losing streak last week. Despite losing Santiago — the defending Big West Player of the Year — to a season-ending knee tear in the season opener, Cal Poly (15-10, 11-3 Big West) had won its first eight conference games and went on to make it 10 of 11.
Then, without Ervin and Schlemer, the Mustangs lost 68-65 at Cal State Northridge and made it two in a row after falling 78-70 at UC Riverside.
“A lot of people were like ‘Oh, bummer. That stinks,’ ” Reeves said. “They weren’t asking what was wrong, but there was a lot of surprise. They were used to hearing that we won both of our games while we were gone, and it kind of flip-flopped.”
On a non-contact play last Tuesday, Ervin suffered a meniscus tear in her left knee and was seen on campus walking on crutches.
It wasn’t immediately known how long she’d be out, and coaches were uncertain she would play this week prior to this Tuesday and Wednesday, her first practice sessions since the injury.
Ervin wasn’t slowed by it Thursday and appears able to play out the remainder of the season, just three more regular season games and the Big West Tournament, possibly beyond.
“I just iced consistently,” Ervin said. “It’s possible that it may get worse, but I’m just going to play thought it. If the pain starts to increase, then I’ll obviously stop, but right now, I’m just focused on my team and not really thinking too much about it.”
Rachel Clancy, second in the Big West with 16.7 points per game coming in, was limited to nine points on 3 of 10 from the field on the same day she was honored as a third-team Academic All-American by the College Sports Information Directors of America.
Mimnaugh was quick to recognize Clancy — the school’s 10th Academic All-American and second from women’s basketball — as the best student she’s had during her tenure.
“The academic level here is so off the charts,” Mimnaugh said. “If any of these players were in any other institution, even within our own conference, they would probably be on the dean’s list because Cal Poly’s standards are just so high.”
The Mustangs led Cal State Fullerton (9-19, 5-10 Big West) by just one and Clancy was scoreless going into the half, but Cal Poly took over with a 10-0 run to start the second half and held a double-digit advantage for the final 11:38.
“Our defense really created a lot of our offense in the beginning of the second half,” Reeves said. “We’ve really been working on defense all week, and that was one of the things we talked about at halftime.”
Reeves helped shut down Titans leading scorer Megan Richardson, who averages 15.6 points.
Richardson was just 2 of 11 from the floor, scored four total points and turned the ball over six times.
Abby Bloetcher added 12 points and nine rebounds for Cal Poly, and defensively, Kayla Griffin had a game-high three steals to go with nine points, nine rebounds and eight assists. “She played point guard in high school and she does an awesome job with that,” Mimnaugh said. “She played an awesome game. So many players played awesome games.”