For the Cal Poly men’s basketball team, it was a comeback for the ages in a building with a rich history of success.
And for a few moments Sunday night in Los Angeles, naming rights to UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, fresh off a $136 million facelift, belonged to another Poly.
Senior guard Dylan Royer tied a career high to lead Cal Poly with 18 points, including six
3-pointers, and the Mustangs (2-2) spoiled the home debut of highly touted UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad by erasing an 18-point second-half deficit for a 70-68 victory.
“It’s an amazing place to be,” Royer said. “The history here is incredible, and we have so much respect for this school, this program and this team. To be down was a little discouraging, but we kept our heads up and kept fighting.”
Cal Poly’s defense held strong when UCLA inbounded the ball from under its own basket with 5 seconds left, giving Jordan Adams just a desperation shot that rebounded harmlessly before any Bruins had a chance for a putback.
For Cal Poly, it was the first victory over a ranked opponent in program history and came against the second-highest ranked team the Mustangs have ever faced — the No. 11 Bruins (4-2), owners of a 5-0 mark all-time against Cal Poly coming in.
Many immediately wondered if this was the biggest win ever for the Mustangs, who have played deep into the Division II playoffs before making the jump to Division I in 1994.
“I’m not the guy to ask because I haven’t been around as much as maybe some of the historians who’ve watched Cal Poly for 40 or 50 years,” said fourth-year Mustangs head coach Joe Callero, “but the thing to note and look back at is you have to schedule hard to have an opportunity to do this.
“What we established was we have to play the best teams we can find and play nationally ranked teams in historic buildings with history, numbers and McDonald’s All-Americans. We’re going to lose some of those games, and we’re going to learn how to win them.”
It’s the second straight year Callero has coached his squad to a victory over a Pac-12 opponent from Los Angeles. The Mustangs made national headlines with a victory at USC last season that was most notable for the singularity of the 42-36 final score.
Midway through the second half Sunday, it didn’t look like Cal Poly had a chance to make it two in a row in Southern California.
After the Mustangs hung tough in the first half, only going into the locker room with a 29-27 deficit after a buzzer-beating layup by UCLA’s Larry Drew II, the Bruins took over.
Led by Muhammad, playing his first home game and third overall since serving a suspension for NCAA rules violations, UCLA went on a 22-6 run to start the second half. Muhammad had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Travis Wear finished with 14 points and Adams added 13 for the Bruins, whose biggest lead came at 51-33 after two Muhammad free throws with 12:21 left in the game.
Then the Cal Poly shooters, who were smothered by the UCLA defense to start the second half, suddenly began to find open shots.
Kyle Odister came off the bench to run the point and scored 15 points, including three 3-pointers and the game-clinching free throws with 11 seconds left.
Mustangs freshman center Brian Bennett finished with a career-high 16 points, and Eversley added 15 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season.
Cal Poly took its first lead of the second half on a tip-in by Eversley with 1:39 left. The Mustangs led 67-65 and never trailed the rest of the way.
Odister broke a 68-68 tie with two free throws facing the heart of a raucous UCLA student section.
“Coach Callero did a tremendous job of reading what they were looking for on defense and we switched up our offense a little bit,” Royer said. “And we spread the court out and pulled their bigs away from the basket. It opened up the court more for us to be more aggressive.”
Bennett went a long way to help keep Cal Poly in it in the first half. Going 4 of 5 from the floor, the 6-foot-10 freshman scored eight points to pace the Mustangs.
His new career-high scoring mark eclipsed a 10-point, 11 rebound effort in his first collegiate game, the season opener at TCU.
Facing high-major opposition, Bennett has been at his best. He’s gone from question mark to stalwart faster than any could have imagined.
“I don’t think there’s anything to that other than me just trying to prove I deserve to be where I’m at,” Bennett said. “And everyone on our team and everyone in our program believe in me, and I’m just trying to bust my butt every game.”