The wealth of experience on Cal Poly men’s basketball squad has not yet manifested in the form of wins this season. The Mustangs are 4-11 and 0-2 in Big West play.
Their Big West-opening loss came to rival UC Santa Barbara on Jan. 9 after the Mustangs rallied early in the second half from an eight-point halftime deficit to tie the score at 46-46 with nine-and-a-half minutes to play. But UCSB pulled away down the stretch, and the Mustangs ultimately fell 65-56.
The Mustangs trailed by as many as 20 points in their second conference game against CSUN on Jan. 12, but again rallied, this time pulling out to a 10-point lead. They were unable to hang on, however, and the game went to overtime. The Mustangs had a chance to tie or take the lead with 11 seconds remaining, but a turnover ended any hope of last-minute heroics. The game ended 78-74.
Cal Poly only has two wins against Division I teams this season: Bethune Cookman and USC Upstate. Their other victories came against NAIA’s Menlo College and Division II Holy Names University.
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The Mustangs are on pace to finish with a worse overall record than last year (9-22), their worst mark since head coach Joe Callero took over and overall since 2008-09 (7-21), the year before he was hired. Cal Poly has posted single-digit wins in a season just five times since joining Division I in 1994.
However, there is reason for hope as three other teams also sit winless in the conference; eight teams in the nine-team Big West qualify for the tournament — and after that, anything can happen.
UC Davis (4-12, 0-2), UC Riverside (6-12, 0-2) and Cal State Fullerton (4-12, 0-2) — Cal Poly’s next three opponents — are all looking to earn their first Big West victory.
Returners not translating into wins
The Mustangs returned six players from last season, including three starters. Donovan Fields, who was the second leading scorer last season, is averaging 17.0 points per game. The senior has scored 20-plus points six times this year, but when he struggles, so do the Mustangs.
Against Texas State on Nov. 21, Fields went 2 of 14 from the field, and the Mustangs lost 72-67. At Fresno State on Dec. 1, Fields went 1 of 14 in a 76-67 loss.
Three of Cal Poly’s four wins have come when Fields scores 21 or more points. While the Mustangs have leaned heavily on Fields, other players have blossomed this year.
Sophomore wing Mark Crowe has become a two-way player, adding a 3-point shot to his game and emerging as the Mustangs’ second leading scorer, averaging 10.9 points per game.
As a freshman, Crowe shot just 25 percent from behind the arc. This year, he is shooting 50 percent (35 for 70).
Junior Ballard has had an immediate impact as a freshman. The guard has struggled at times — to be expected — but has shown the ability to score in chunks. Ballard scored 21 points against CSU Bakersfield on Dec. 18 in a 74-61 loss and 15 points against Fresno State.
Freshman Daxton Carr has started the last nine games for the Mustangs and is averaging 4.1 points per game.
The Mustang’s next three games provide an opportunity to make up ground in the conference. Cal Poly faces UC Davis on the road at 5 p.m. Saturday and will return home on Wednesday, when it plays host to UC Riverside at 7 p.m.