The Cal Poly men’s basketball team received word last week that sophomore guard Taylor Sutlive, who was penciled in to start this season, was lost for the year with an ACL tear.
Along with junior post player Zach Gordon, that makes two Mustangs gone for the season before it even started.
The positive news for Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero heading into Saturday’s 3 p.m. visit to Nevada to open the season is twofold.
Both Sutlive and Gordon have redshirt seasons available and are guaranteed not to lose any eligibility, and players who were injured and held out of last month’s intrasquad scrimmage are back healthy and ready to contribute.
“The good news is that the guys who had minor injuries are actually practicing now,” Callero said, referencing junior wing David Nwaba, post player Brian Bennett and shooting guard Reese Morgan. “Three guys who were out are practicing.
“I feel really confident about the eight or nine guys that we have. Our depth after that starts to move towards some walk-ons and some kids that haven’t had any time, but that’ll be a challenge if we get into foul trouble or have any more injuries.”
Reluctant to detail the starting lineup before tipping off, Callero said both Nwaba and Bennett are being counted on for big minutes, with Morgan, a former Parade High School All-America honoree with chronic knee injuries, coming off the bench.
Nwaba is the leading returning scorer and rebounder after averaging 11.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last season. Bennett, a junior who has started most of the past two seasons, had 6.1 points and 3.1 rebounds last year.
Likely joining Bennett in the front court is junior Joel Awich, who averaged 4.1 points and led the team with 31 blocks last season. Sophomore guard Ridge Shipley, who hit the 3-pointer that put Cal Poly in the NCAA Tournament last season, projects to run the point.
Senior guards Maliik Love and Michael Bolden also figure to have prominent roles with senior forward and former walk-on Anthony Silvestri playing a role as well.
Newcomers to watch include true freshman big man Aleks Abrams and transfer guard Kyle Toth, who averaged more than eight points as a true freshman at Army and 15 points at Foothill College last season.
The Central Coast won’t have a long wait to see what it all looks like. The Mustangs open the home schedule with two games next week, against San Francisco State on Tuesday and Delaware at Friday. Both games start at 7 p.m. at Mott Athletics Center with Cal Poly’s new high definition video screens in operation.
“With all our Cal Poly teams, our issue’s always going to be developing consistency in the offensive end,” Callero said.
“We did show the ability to defend. Our man-to-man defense is really good. Our zone is inconsistent but could be used as well.”
Mustangs looking to step up defense
The Cal Poly women’s basketball team has been better known for its offense since the Mustangs ascended to become one of the Big West Conference’s perennial title contenders in the past seven years.
Former Cal Poly players of the year Kristina Santiago, Rachel Clancy and Molly Schlemer built their reputations as the conference’s leading scorers. Santiago and Schlemer are still scoring at impressive rates professionally in Europe.
This season, however, going into Sunday’s season-opener at Fresno State, the Mustangs’ focus is on the other end of the court.
“We’re really excited to see how well our defense comes together because we’re really trying to focus on being a defensive team this year,” senior guard Kristen Ale said. “Defense wins championships.”
Senior guard Ariana Elegado returned for her fifth season and figures to be Cal Poly’s player-of-the-year candidate with some offensive punch. Elegado averaged a team-leading 17 points and contributed 4.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game last season.
Ale averaged 8.2 points, and senior forward Taryn Garza averaged 6.1 points, but they are the only other returners to put up more than five points per game last season.
Sophomore forward Hannah Gilbert, a Morro Bay High product, slides in at the center spot Schlemer formerly occupied. True freshman twins Lynn and Dynn Leaupepe figure to slot in somewhere, with either Ale or Ventura College transfer Lisa Maria Sanchez pairing with Elegado in the backcourt.
Plenty is left to be settled in the rotation, and one huge question looms.
“Do we have enough scoring?” Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “I think our defense good, but do we have enough scoring? Not really sure. “Hopefully, our defense can generate some scoring.”
Mustangs moving on without Lotito
Despite losing its first two dual matches of the season without former NCAA qualifier Devon Lotito, Cal Poly wrestling head coach Brendan Buckley said the program is in better shape this season.
Lotito, who won the 133-pound Pac-12 title as a true freshman and finished as the conference’s runner-up at 133 pounds last season, is no longer on the roster.
“He had some serious personal matters that he had to attend to,” Buckley said. “I’ve got to respect his privacy.”
“I feel we’ve made a big gain in terms of our leadership on the team,” Buckley added. Dominic Kastl at 174 pounds is “the lone senior, so, overall, we’re fairly young.”
Saying only “time will tell” whether Lotito will return to the program, Buckley reflected on the team’s double-header at home this past Saturday, which resulted in an 18-15 loss to NCAA Division II Cal Baptist and a 24-9 loss to San Francisco State.
The Mustangs host Purdue at 7 p.m. Friday in the premier home match of the season.
“Nobody likes starting the season like that,” Buckley said, “but we were proud of the effort in the first bout for the majority of the guys. Against San Francisco State, we just didn’t show the same kind of fight and effort that we showed in the first bout. We have a young team. So, that’s kind of a wakeup call for them to deal with that type of adversity.”