The UC Davis women’s basketball team came into Mott Athletics Center as one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country.
Then, thanks in part to a disruptive Cal Poly defense, the Aggies left a little worse for wear as the Mustangs reasserted their claim as one of the Big West Conference title contenders with a 72-64 victory Thursday.
“They missed some shots,” Cal Poly senior forward Taryn Garza said, “but I feel like we really cracked down on defense and played really tough. We knew where shooters were at and when to double down on the post player and get back out.
“We all had to be very aware, know where to go and communicate on the court.”
UC Davis (8-10, 3-3 Big West) came into the game ranked sixth in the nation as a team shooting 39.2 percent on 3-pointers. Senior guard Kelsey Harris was fourth in the country as an individual, hitting 48.4 percent from 3-point range.
The Aggies also have a victory over defending conference champion CSUN and nearly beat first-place Long Beach State if not for a last-second, game-winning 3-pointer by the 49ers.
Cal Poly (10-9, 5-2 held Harris to just 1 of 4 on 3-pointers and three total points, and UC Davis was just 7 for 28 from 3-point range overall.
While the Aggies ran through their high-paced version of the Princeton offense, Mustangs head coach Faith Mimnaugh praised her team’s perimeter defense, was pleased with Cal Poly’s focus in not allowing backdoor layups and lauded younger players such as freshmen twins Dynn and Lynn Leaupepe for their effort.
“You can’t say we didn’t recognize shooters,” Mimnaugh said, “because they can all shoot. We did a great job on Harris. She didn’t get the looks that she normally gets because we were really clued in to what they were doing offensively. In the end, I thought we really played their system as well as we’ve really played it in the past, and this is with a lot of inexperience on the court.”
With the victory, Cal Poly moved alone into second place after CSUN lost its third conference game earlier in the day. Depending on Long Beach State’s late-night game at Hawaii, which started at 9 p.m., the Mustangs could go into Saturday’s home game with UC Irvine tied for first.
“That’s huge. Davis is a really good team,” Cal Poly senior guard Kristen Ale said. “So, we were really trying to get this win, but we’re just taking it one game at a time. Irvine is the next one.”
Ale had a team-high 17 points and tied a career high with a game-high four 3-pointers. The Aggies were led by senior Sidnee Fipps, who had a game-high 19 points and 10 rebounds.
The Mustangs also got 10 points and six assists from senior guard Ariana Elegado, and Garza scored 14 points and grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds.
But Garza fouled out with four minutes left and Cal Poly clinging to a lead that had shrunk from 16 at its largest to just seven as UC Davis made its run.
“Taryn’s our best rebounder on the team,” Ale said. “So, we really just tried to focus on keeping that aggressiveness on the board. We weren’t worried. We just tried to keep the same intensity that Taryn has when she’s on the court.”
And seven points was as close as the Aggies got from there.
Garza’s replacement, Rachel Koehler, scored three points in the final stretch, including a layup on an assist by Ale. Dynn Leaupepe hit a pair of free throws, and Ale made four straight from the free-throw line in the final 33 seconds to help clinch the victory.
“I just knew my teammates all work really, really hard,” Garza said. “So, I knew we would get it done. I wasn’t too worried. I knew Rachel could go in there and post up and get boards.”
Cal Poly led 35-26 at the half after UC Davis shot just 15.4 percent (2 of 13) from 3-point range.
The Mustangs were also successful against the Aggies’ 3-2 zone defense, forcing UC Davis to go to a man-to-man in the second half.
That’s when Elegado took control of the game.
She dished to Garza for an open jumper that pushed the lead to double digits to start the half. Then Elegado hit a basket of her own, nailed two free throws, assisted on an Ale 3-pointer and drove the lane for a layup that pushed Cal Poly’s lead to 46-30 with 16:19 left in the game.