It had been a long time since the Cal Poly women’s basketball team had beaten Big West Conference foe UC Santa Barbara in Mott Gym — but not nearly as long, Mustangs coach Faith Mimnaugh playfully claimed, as it’s been since Abby Bloetscher successfully took a charge.
Both streaks were broken Thursday night as the Cal Poly (13-6, 6-2 Big West) pulled out a 67-62 win over the Gauchos, and the Mustangs’ 6-foot-3 sophomore center drew the game-changing offensive foul against UC Santa Barbara’s Meagan Williams in the final seconds.
Williams, who led the Gauchos (6-13, 3-4 Big West) with 23 points, was trying to tie the score with a drive down the right lane, but Bloetscher moved over from the help side and hit the deck as the players collided.
“As soon as I saw her, I knew she was a really good penetrator, and I knew she was going to go the bucket,” said Bloetscher, who chose to plant her feet despite already notching two blocked shots in the game.
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“I just focused on getting to my spot, holding my feet, getting in good position and taking the charge correctly.”
Bloetscher hadn’t scored a point at the time of that foul, which came with 17.7 seconds left, but the play was possibly the most important of the night. It gave Cal Poly the ball and forced UC Santa Barbara to foul in an attempt to keep its eight-year winning streak in San Luis Obispo intact.
For Bloetscher, it had been 20 years in the making.
“She’s never taken one in her life, and it couldn’t come at a better time,” Mimnaugh quipped. “I could see it coming. I was hoping she would fall. Normally, she’s so strong, they just bounce off of her and the refs never call it. She did an awesome job taking it and falling.”
Cal Poly beat the Gauchos in Santa Barbara in 2007, but the Mustangs’ last home win over their rival was Feb. 9, 2001, and the Gauchos had beaten Cal Poly the past six meetings, including bouncing the Mustangs from the Big West Tournament the past two years.
This season, however, Cal Poly looks to reverse all of those trends. The Mustangs are off to their best 19-game start in program history, a record matched only by the 1981-82 team.
And with the victory, Cal Poly is alone in second place while UC Santa Barbara fell below .500 in conference and is tied for sixth with conference play half over.
It was a significant win for the Mustangs, but the demons won’t be completely exorcised until Cal Poly can win multiple conference titles, Mimnaugh said.
“For us to get over a hump, we want to get what they have,” Mimnaugh said. “They’ve got banners all over their stadium. That’s what we want. We’re not going to be satisfied until that’s what we have.”
Brittany Lange led the Mustangs with 16 points, tying a career high she set in a win over Long Beach State on Jan. 16. Kristina Santiago added 15 points and a team-high six rebounds for the Mustangs.
Lange is averaging 15 points in the past four games as defenses focus on Big West Player of the Year candidate Santiago and the team’s second-leading scorer, high-percentage spot-up shooter Rachel Clancy.
The recipient of less attention, Lange has to be making opposing coaches re-think their defensive strategies.
“Our inside attack just opened up the outside all over for us,” said Lange, who went 4 of 8 from 3-point range. “We had open 3s whenever we wanted them.
“They can’t guard all of us, so, someone’s got to be open.”
Cal Poly hit 9 of 20 3-pointers, a number trumped this season only by the 10 3-pointers the Mustangs hit in that win over Long Beach State.
But the most glaring numbers were not what Cal Poly did offensively. The Mustangs were able to hold UC Santa Barbara to just seven offensive rebounds, while grabbing 15 of their own.
Cal Poly also forced the Gauchos into 24 turnovers, while coming up with more assists (19) than turnovers (18) itself.
UC Santa Barbara’s leading scorer (12.5 points per game) and rebounder (7.2 rebounds per game, Mekia Valentine, a 6-4 transfer from Wake Forest, was held to just four points and grabbed only one rebound.
“We proved something to ourselves tonight,” Lange said, “that we’re capable of being the top team in the conference, and we’re ready to take it.”