As the games piled up, David Nwaba didn’t really think much of the streak he was building.
The Cal Poly men’s basketball junior forward does most of his damage driving to the hoop from the wing, but for all that time he spent outside, he hadn’t taken a 3-pointer.
For 48 games, it appeared as if the former Santa Monica College transfer was going to make good on a prediction by Mustangs head coach Joe Callero that Nwaba could go his entire Cal Poly career without attempting a 3-pointer.
It was getting to the point where the streak was more impressive than anything else.
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Now, it’s over.
Big West Conference opponents have been daring Nwaba, who leads the Mustangs with 13.3 points per game, to shoot from the outside. He felt like he needed to start doing so for the sake of the team.
“I always just try to be aggressive,” Nwaba said. “I feel like the best shot is just getting to the basket, but when people are just clogging the paint and sagging off, it’s just kind of obvious: You’ve got to start shooting. There’s just no other way of scoring.”
So, 6:17 into last Thursday’s 50-48 loss at Long Beach State, Nwaba took his first career Division I 3-pointer. And he sank it.
Nwaba finished 1 for 2 on 3s in that game, scoring 12, and in Saturday’s 55-48 loss at CSUN, he was 1 for 4 from long range with another 12 points.
Those efforts followed consecutive games where he was held under double digits for the first time all season. Nwaba said after failing to score at least 10 against Hawaii and UC Santa Barbara, he had multiple shooting sessions where he took 1,000 long-range jumpers.
“If I’m going to help the team, I’m going to expand my game, open up the floor for everyone,” Nwaba said. “It’s not helping having my guy sag off me and stopping my teammates’ penetration.
“I’ve got to spread the floor by becoming a threat from the 3-point line. I’m not saying I’m there yet, but if I get the shots up and start hitting them, people will start closing out on me.”
Nwaba has the green light to shoot now, one he didn’t have last season. Callero said Nwaba did not show the skills to shoot from the outside then.
As a newcomer to the team battling for playing time with fellow junior college transfer wing player Michael Bolden, Nwaba went exclusively to the rim in the interest of winning playing time. That’s what he did best.
He ended up shooting a team-leading 52.6 percent from the field last season and ranked second with 11.7 points per game. As the team went into the offseason where he was comfortably a returning team leader, Nwaba began flashing his outside shot and gaining the confidence of coaches.
“He had no ability to take that and make that during his sophomore year,” Callero said. “Spring of last year, he started showing it. We said, you could do it, but you’ve got to put the time into it.
“By summer, we said, ‘OK David, you’re in position to do that.’ He was shooting it well, and he was driving.”
Then Nwaba was struck by a devastating wrist sprain. He was going up for a dunk, took some contact and landed awkwardly during a summer practice.
The injury required surgery on his shooting hand and set back his designs on unleashing his outside shot. The 3-point streak continued for the first couple months of the season, but now that his wrist has mostly healed, he can shoot without pain.
“I probably got worse than I was before with the wrist surgery,” Nwaba said, “but just recently after having those bad games, I just got in the gym and got up a lot of shots. So it’s just confidence boosting. I didn’t have the confidence before.
“Every time I’m open, I just let it fly now.”
Mustangs hanging tough inside
Cal Poly sophomore post player Hannah Gilbert had to play through illness last week because the Mustangs women’s basketball team remains thin inside.
Reserve center Nikki Fausey played nine games to start the season but has been out with a shoulder injury ever since. That has led to minutes for 5-9 forward Taryn Garza and guards Mary Kate Evans and Rachel Koehler at center when Gilbert goes out.
The lack of size hasn’t hurt Cal Poly (8-8, 3-1 Big West) so far in conference play. The Mustangs are in second place after two weeks, and this week, the emphasis will again be on the perimeter.
Both Cal State Fullerton, whom the Mustangs visit Thursday, and UC Riverside, where Cal Poly will play Saturday, have perimeter- oriented attacks.
Mustangs head coach Faith Mimnaugh called Titans point guard Chante Miles, who averages 19.1 points and 5.2 assists, the quickest in the conference. That could pose a problem inside.
“Miles penetrates the ball so well,” Mimnaugh said. “She’s either getting to the rack or jump shots. She’s so quick, she generally tags a few fouls on posts, guards, everybody. She’s a great player.”