Molly Schlemer is a secretly good 3-point shooter.
Cal Poly women’s basketball coaches would prefer the 6-foot-5 senior center take all of her shots within three feet of the basket, where she’s converting more than 55.2 percent.
So, Schlemer practices long-range shots on her own time. Mustangs guard Ariana Elegado, who came to Cal Poly in Schlemer’s recruiting class, is her partner in crime.
Goofing around, the duo will run a pick-and-pop play where Schlemer can launch a game-winning 3 as the pretend clock runs out.
After Saturday’s crucial 92-87 overtime win over UC Irvine, the idea doesn’t sound so silly.
“Me and Ariana practice that shot all the time,” Schlemer said. “We’re joking around, and I’m like, ‘3-2-1,’ and it happened in real life tonight.
“My coaches, they always tell me to do what you’re good at, but in my spare time, why not throw up a couple? It paid off tonight.”
On the assist from Elegado, Schlemer hit the game-tying 3-pointer with 9.7 seconds left in regulation. Hot shooting by Beth Balbierz helped erase a second-half, double-digit deficit, and Cal Poly (16-12, 10-5 Big West Conference) gave its seniors a goodbye while moving one-half game ahead of Hawaii and into second place in the regular-season home finale.
The afternoon game at Mott Athletics Center began with a tear-filled senior day ceremony and ended with elation as Elegado, a redshirt junior who will graduate this year, poked the ball away from Anteaters guard Jennifer Tsurumoto to protect a 3-point lead and prevent UC Irvine from taking a potential game-tying shot in the last 10 seconds of overtime.
When Schlemer sat after two fouls in the game’s first five minutes, Kristen Ale carried the offense before the break and finished with 17 points off the bench. Senior point guard Jonae Ervin scored 13 of her 17 points from the free-throw line, missing just once from the stripe, and had a game-high nine assists.
Balbierz had a career-high 17 points, hitting five of her first six 3-pointers, and Schlemer had 13 points and 11 rebounds despite playing just 26 minutes.
Senior guard Nwamaka Ofodu belted a rousing rendition of the national anthem, then had 10 points and nine rebounds.
Elegado had just nine points and started the game 1 for 13 from the field, but she hit two huge 3-pointers in a two-minute span late in regulation to help the Mustangs keep pace as
UC Irvine (14-14, 7-7 Big West) heated up down the stretch.
Anteaters guard Kelly Meggs hit two 3-pointers, and Vanessa Aguilar hit another in a one-minute span that gave UC Irvine an 81-79 lead with 1:37 left in regulation.
Meggs tied for the game high with 22 and hit five 3-pointers, and the Anteaters also got 22 points and a game-high 12 rebounds from center Camille Buckley.
Aguilar had 14 points on an off-shooting day, and Lauren Spinazze had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Buckley hit a free-throw with 29 seconds left in regulation to make it 82-79, and when UC Irvine smothered Balbierz and Elegado to prevent either from hitting a big 3, Schlemer was left alone and nailed the shot, just her second career 3-pointer after sinking another last month.
“That was a gift from God; there’s no question about that,” Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “We were saying our prayers before the game. Thank you, God.”
Balbierz also deserves some thanks.
The Mustangs were circling the drain when the Anteaters tool a 65-54 lead with 11:06 left in the game.
Balbierz entered and promptly hit three 3-pointers without a miss in a span of five minutes to give Cal Poly a 69-68 lead with 5:52 left.
Balbierz hit two more 3s in the first 1:10 of overtime, and with a four-point lead, the Mustangs were able to comfortably close it out.
“Our mindset today was ‘get a stop,’ ” Balbierz said, “and I think once we got into the overtime, we were calm, we knew what we had to do, and once we scored, we knew as long as we got a stop, we were fine.
“I’m really happy we were able to get the win for the seniors. Last year we weren’t able to do that. So, let them leave Mott on a positive note.”