The Cal Poly women’s basketball team got an up close and personal look at just how good Long Beach State is, and the Leaupepe twins flashed a preview of the Mustangs of the future.
The 49ers (16-1, 3-0 Big West Conference) were exactly as advertised in Thursday night’s first-place showdown, flustering Cal Poly (7-8, 2-1 Big West) in an 85-74 victory heading into Cal Poly’s grudge match against CSUN on Saturday.
Long Beach State hit five of its first eight 3-pointers, shot 50 percent from the floor overall, held a comfortable lead for most of the game and is off to its best start since making the Final Four in 1987.
The 49ers’ pressure defense forced the Mustangs into repeated rushed shots from the outside, and Cal Poly was just 6 of 27 from 3-point range.
Whether it was full-court pressure or half-court trapping, Long Beach State effectively made the Mustangs uncomfortable. The 49ers came into the game ranked fourth in the nation in 3-point percentage defense and for good reason.
Cal Poly lost for the first time in six games this season when scoring more than 70 points, but the Mustangs had trouble finding shots in rhythm for senior leaders Kristen Ale and Taryn Garza, who combined to go 2 for 10 and score four points.
“They are so deep and they run everything,” Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “So, they never let you get comfortable in any kind of set. They’re switching all over the place all the time, and they put constant pressure on you. It really is taxing both physically and mentally by what they can throw at you.
“They’re really talented offensively, too. Their ability to shoot the 3 makes it tougher to guard them, and I thought they really picked apart our zone today. We went to man, and I thought we did OK, but we needed some stops and didn’t get them.”
Long Beach State had an 11-point halftime lead and led by as many as 13 in the second half.
Cal Poly didn’t get close until Mimnaugh made the rare decision to put both freshmen identical twins Dynn and Lynn Leaupepe on the floor at the same time.
With a flurry of steals, the duo spearheaded an effort to cut the lead to eight with 12 minutes left.
Beth Balbierz hit back-to-back 3s that cut the lead to seven with six minutes left, but again the 49ers quickly got the lead back to 13 when Leaupepes were split up.
They were inserted back into the game together and helped cut the Long Beach State lead to 73-68 with 1:59 left when Dynn Leaupepe made good on a three-point play underneath the hoop.
Dynn Leaupepe scored a game- and career-high 27 points and tied a career high with a game-high 11 rebounds. She also had a block and three steals.
The point total was the most by a Mustangs player this season. Ariana Elegado, who scored 14 on Thursday, including a game-high four 3-pointers, had 24 in a game earlier this season.
“My teammates helped put me in good positions to score,” Dynn Leaupepe said, “and I’ve been working really hard on my jumpers. That’s my strength so far. So, it’s just about finding my strengths.”
Lynn Leaupepe scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds but made a bigger impact on defense, grabbing a game-high five steals.
The twins, who will likely be the focal point of next year’s Cal Poly team and several more to come, say they work well on the court together because each is eager to outdo one another.
Mimnaugh settled into a habit of subbing one for the other to help keep their energy up throughout the game.
“Usually they run out of gas,” Mimnaugh said. “It makes it difficult when they’re both on the court at the same time for what’s the next substitution and where can you get that same athleticism and rebounding and quickness on the court.”
Still, there was little denying Thursday that Cal Poly had more flow on both ends of the court when the Leaupepes were both on the court. It was the most they had played together so far in their collegiate careers.
“It was a lot of fun,” Lynn Leaupepe said. “We found each other without actually even seeing one another. I made two passes to her, and I didn’t even know she was there. I just did it. The whole twin telepathy thing, we have that a lot.”