If Hannah Gilbert’s decorated women’s basketball career at Cal Poly had to come to an end Tuesday night, the senior forward made sure she would go out on her own terms.
Gilbert set the tone from the opening tip against a relentless Hawaii defense in the first round of the Big West Conference Tournament, and she quickly emerged as the Mustangs’ only consistent offensive threat on a night when most shots weren’t falling.
The 6-foot-3 Gilbert showed her full arsenal of offensive weapons, scoring a game-high 26 points to lead Cal Poly during a 71-50 loss against the defending tournament champion Rainbow Warriors inside Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid.
“She was definitely dialed in,” head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “She was the only thing going for us on offense. I was disappointed that we couldn’t get some other people going. We certainly tried.”
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Surging Hawaii held Cal Poly to 18 points below its season scoring average and went 10-for-22 from behind the 3-point line in the victory.
Junior guard Olivia Crawford scored a career-high 21 points, including five made 3-pointers, to lead the Rainbow Warriors (12-18), who won their fourth straight game and will play third-seeded CSUN in the second round at 6 p.m. Thursday on ESPN3.
“We really needed that,” said senior guard Briana Harris, who added 18 points and made all three of her 3-pointers. “(Crawford) brought the energy from the jump.”
Cal Poly lost its final four games of the season to end the year 11-18 overall. The program will lose Gilbert and senior forward Amanda Lovely to graduation before next season, and could return eight juniors from this year’s team heading into 2017-18.
Gilbert checked off one milestone in the opening minutes, passing former teammate Molly Schlemer for No. 6 on the Mustangs’ all-time scoring list with a turn-around hook shot in the first quarter. The Morro Bay High graduate finished her career with 1,157 points.
However, Gilbert was Cal Poly’s only offensive presence in the first half, scoring 14 points on an efficient 7-for-10 shooting. The rest of the team went a combined 2-for-21 in the opening 20 minutes as the Mustangs went into halftime looking up at a 28-21 deficit.
Gilbert finished the game 12-for-23 from the field, while the rest of the team went a combined 9-for-42. The Mustangs missed all 11 of their 3-pointers.
“I’ve seen the work they put in on the offseason, so I know that they’ll fall eventually,” said Gilbert, a first-team all-conference performer. “And they did, it took some time.”
Hawaii’s physical defense seemed to cause problems for Dynn and Lynn Leaupepe from start to finish. The all-conference twin sisters, who each averaged 15.0 points per game during the regular season, were held to a combined 5-for-26 shooting.
Dynn Leaupepe finished with nine points, six rebounds and four steals in 30 minutes. Lynn Leaupepe added six points and a game-high 10 rebounds, and Lovely contributed seven points, four rebounds and five assists in the final game of her career.
“The whole team really wanted it for those two people,” Mimnaugh said. “They’ve been excellent leaders for us and unfortunately we couldn’t put the ball in the bucket tonight and certainly Hawaii could.”
Big West Conference Tournament
Hawaii 71, Cal Poly 50
Key stat: Hannah Gilbert scored a game-high 26 points on 12-for-23 shooting. The rest of the Mustangs went a combined 9-for-42.
Noteworthy: Gilbert passed former Cal Poly standout Molly Schlemer to move into sixth place on the Mustangs’ all-time scoring list.
Up next: Cal Poly ends the season 11-18 overall.