Cal Poly women’s basketball standout Dynn Leaupepe expected to see an uptick in her team’s intensity as the calendar turned to March.
That’s exactly what she got Wednesday night. With the Big West Conference Tournament lingering next week, the Mustangs led wire-to-wire and closed out their home schedule with a 73-57 victory over last-place Cal State Fullerton at Mott Athletics Center.
Cal Poly avoided a third straight loss and improved to 11-16 overall and 7-8 in the Big West heading into Saturday’s regular season finale against rival UC Santa Barbara. The Mustangs are currently sixth in the conference standings and could potentially move up to the No. 5 seed with a win against the Gauchos.
“This is where we know that it counts the most, and we know that this is where we need to focus the most,” said Leaupepe, who became the 14th player in program history to score 1,000 points in her career. “This is what we worked for, so we are definitely embracing this moment.”
Cal Poly seemed to be dialed in from the opening tip on a night when the program honored senior forwards Hannah Gilbert and Amanda Lovely during a pregame ceremony. And, ultimately, it was the Mustangs’ defense that made sure Wednesday’s outcome was never really in question.
The Titans (4-24, 1-14 Big West) went more than six minutes without a point to start the second half as Cal Poly’s lead quickly swelled to 16 points. Daeja Smith certainly did her part to keep the visitors within striking distance, scoring a game-high 21 points and grabbing seven rebounds to lead Cal State Fullerton, which lost its 11th consecutive game.
Leaupepe, Cal Poly’s leading scorer at 15.0 points per game, continued her strong shooting during the second quarter, knocking down four consecutive jump shots to keep the Mustangs in control. Leaupepe went on to score a team-high 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting, to go with five rebounds and five assists in 28 minutes.
Lovely added 13 points and five rebounds, Lynn Leaupepe had 11 points and seven rebounds, and Gilbert finished with 10 points.
“It has not quite hit me yet,” Gilbert said of playing her final home game. “So, hopefully it doesn’t hit me any time soon.”
Gilbert is on the last leg of her decorated career, and ranks in the top-10 in program history in both scoring and rebounding. Gilbert is No. 7 all-time in scoring and No. 6 in rebounding, and will likely pass former Cal Poly star Molly Schlemer in both categories by the end of the year.
While Gilbert has drawn most of the attention, Lovely has quietly been a steady presence in the Mustangs’ lineup the past two seasons. A Palo Alto native, Lovely arrived at Cal Poly in 2014 after spending her freshman season at Pepperdine.
The rangy 6-foot-2 forward has started nearly 50 games the past two years, averaging 4.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per contest.
“I think it was really special for us to send them out with a win,” Dynn Leaupepe said of the two seniors. “They work so hard in the offseason and they did a great job at leading us really this whole season.”
Gritty point guard Dye Stahley did her part to send the seniors off on a high note, making two buzzer-beating 3-pointers to end the first and second quarters. It was a welcome sight for Stahley, a player not usually known for her outside shooting, and a timely boost for the Mustangs.
Cal Poly will conclude the regular season against UC Santa Barbara in the second installment of this year’s Blue-Green Rivalry at 4 p.m. Saturday at The Thunderdome.
The Mustangs, who are 3-10 on the road this season, won the first meeting between the schools 78-67 in the Big West opener on Jan. 5. Dynn and Lynn Leaupepe were at their best that night, combining for 55 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists in the victory.
Cal Poly 73, Cal State Fullerton 57
Record: 11-16, 7-8 Big West (sixth)
Key statistic: The Mustangs shot 55.8 percent from the field and 60 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Noteworthy: Junior guard Dynn Leaupepe became the 14th player in program history to score 1,000 points in her career.
Up next: Cal Poly will close the regular season against rival UC Santa Barbara at 4 p.m. Saturday at The Thunderdome.