It wasn’t her knee.
That was the word around the Cal Poly women’s basketball team when senior forward Kristina Santiago went to the hospital with neck pain last week.
It was a mantra repeated after the senior — who has had surgery to repair torn ACLs in each of her knees — took a knee to the spine in a victory Saturday and sat out another victory Sunday.
And “it wasn’t her knee” was another saving grace to Santiago’s latest injury Wednesday at Mott Gym.
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Christine Martin could not convert on a driving layup in the final second, and the Mustangs (3-3) fell 80-78 to visiting Pepperdine after blowing an 18-point lead and losing Santiago to what appeared to be an ankle injury with 7:12 left in the first half.
Santiago wasn’t expected to play but started and scored six points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field and grabbed three rebounds before stumbling to the floor all alone on a 3-point attempt.
The ball went in, but Santiago was called for traveling and limped off the court with a smile that belied her frustration.
“We didn’t think she would be able to play today at all,” Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh said of the former Big West Conference Player of the Year. “We were a little bit surprised with that, and we kind of said with any sign of pain, we would pull her, and it looks like she turned her ankle or something, so that was it.”
The Mustangs sizzled with Santiago, building a 38-20 lead before she went out. At that point, they were shooting 88.2 percent from the field (15 of 17) and had hit each of their five 3-pointers.
It was less than half of the NCAA record-tying 11 consecutive 3-pointers Cal Poly hit in a victory over Pacific in February 2010, but Cal Poly was on a roll.
Over the first couple minutes without Santiago, however, Pepperdine went on a 9-1 run to cut the lead to eight.
Ashlee Burns, who scored a team-high 14 points for Cal Poly, hit a 3-pointer to push it back to 11, and the Mustangs ended the half leading 46-36.
Cal Poly kept the lead at or near double digits for the first 10 minutes of the second half, but after that, Pepperdine (4-3) began to whittle away.
Katie Menton scored a game-high 27 points for the Waves, and Shay Cooney-Williams, who had 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting, scored the final eight points for Pepperdine, including a floating jumper in the lane to give the Wave a two-point lead with 15.4 seconds left.
To further the frustration, Mimnaugh picked up a rare technical foul with 8:50 left in the second half and Cal Poly nursing a 66-58 lead.
Lauren Bell missed both free throws for Pepperdine, but when the officials failed to catch a reach-in foul in front of the Mustangs bench, the technical was a sign of the momentum turning.
“I’ve never gotten a technical foul,” Mimnaugh said.
“I said ‘come on’ in a loud voice, so if that’s enough to get a technical, then I guess that’s enough to get a technical in this league. I didn’t say any obscenity. Our player clearly got fouled, and I was upset. I thought it was a very poor non-call because I could see the hand on the wrist, and to me, it was obvious. It was not a subjective call at all.”