A potential blue print for what the rest of the Cal Poly women’s basketball season could look like took shape over the course of the Mustangs’ comeback victory Thursday night against rival UC Santa Barbara.
Not only did the 78-67 Blue-Green Rivalry win help Cal Poly end a four-game losing streak, it also revealed the significant problems the Mustangs can cause their opponents as Big West Conference play gets into full swing.
Junior guards and twin sisters Dynn and Lynn Leaupepe provided the dynamic scoring punch, while senior forwards Hannah Gilbert and Amanda Lovely relentlessly pursued rebounds against a physically imposing Gauchos front court.
Add in a career-high seven assists from junior guard Gabby Grupalo, and Cal Poly (5-8, 1-0 Big West) looked like a team capable of competing with anyone in the conference this season.
“Once we start with one run, we’re hyped, we’re excited, we want to keep going,” Lynn Leaupepe said. “I think that’s what we did. We were there for one another and wanted to keep that energy up.”
The Mustangs stumbled early in their Big West opener, turning the ball over 13 times in the first half and trailing by as many as nine points in the second quarter. But the tide shifted dramatically after the break as Cal Poly rallied behind the red-hot shooting of the Leaupepe sisters.
Dynn Leaupepe scored 13 of her game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter — her third 20-point effort this season — and went 11-for-11 at the free-throw line. She also pulled down a season-high eight rebounds and handed out five assists in a strong all-around performance.
Lynn Leaupepe was equally impressive in scoring 26 points on an efficient 9-for-13 shooting from the field — also her third 20-point performance this year — to go with nine rebounds and two assists. Her 10-point third quarter helped swing the momentum in Cal Poly’s favor and they made the lead stand up the rest of the way.
Dynn and Lynn Leaupepe combined to out-score UC Santa Barbara 36-32 in the second half. They attempted only one 3-pointer between the two, which head coach Faith Mimnaugh said has been an emphasis for a team shooting 20.9 percent from beyond the arc this year.
“Our game is really penetration and trying to get into the paint and get attacks,” Mimnaugh said. “I thought we stayed with what we needed to do.”
Perhaps the most impressive statistical difference was Cal Poly’s 47-28 rebounding advantage. It’s arguably the most important attribute of successful women’s basketball teams, and the Mustangs showed they’re capable of being a dominant group on the glass.
The 6-foot-3 Gilbert, who easily gave up 20 pounds to Gauchos’ standout Drew Edleman, scored 13 points and corralled seven rebounds. Lovely chipped in eight points and pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds, nine coming during the decisive second-half swing.
It all adds up to a winning formula the Mustangs hope to maintain moving forward.
CSUN (8-7, 1-0 Big West) is set to visit Mott Athletics Center at 4 p.m. Saturday. The Matadors have won four of their last six games, including a 58-41 win against Cal State Fullerton at home Thursday night.
Reigning Big West Freshman of the Year Channon Fluker scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for her conference-leading ninth double-double this season. The imposing 6-4 Fluker added four blocked shots and a career-high three assists in 34 minutes.
Much of the responsibility for defending Fluker will fall to the veteran Gilbert, who Mimnaugh said doesn’t always get the credit she deserves for her defense prowess. That point was illustrated by Edleman’s relatively quiet five-point, seven-rebound performance.
“Hopefully we can do the same thing against Fluker,” Mimnaugh said. “We may play it a little bit differently, but she’s a huge presence and a terrific player. Their whole team is terrific, so we’ll have our hands full for sure.”