The Cal Poly women’s basketball team won its second first-place showdown with a Big West Conference rival in as many weeks, sending UC Riverside home with a 58-51 loss Saturday and avenging an earlier blowout loss to the Highlanders.
Kristina Santiago had game highs with 21 points and 13 rebounds and hit her first collegiate 3-pointer, Becky Tratter secured two offensive rebounds in the final 1:22 to prevent UC Riverside (11-14, 8-4) from making a last-minute comeback and the Mustangs (16-8, 9-3) moved all alone into first place once again.
Cal Poly won a showdown with UC Davis last week to leapfrog the Aggies in the standings before Thursday’s loss at Long Beach State knotted the Mustangs back up with another team — the Highlanders — at the top.
UC Riverside even had the psychological upper hand, coming off a 76-59 win over Cal Poly in their previous meeting last month. After Saturday’s Mustangs victory in Mott Gym, Cal Poly now has the inside track on the program’s first regular season Big West title with just four games left in the regular season.
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“We were really disappointed with Long Beach State,” Mustangs head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well there in the first half, and it kind of put us out of sorts. I like how we came together today and rebounded from where we were at on Thursday.”
Cal Poly did not shoot very well from the floor Saturday either. Aside from Santiago, who was 9 for 16 from the floor, the Mustangs shot just 22 percent on field goals and 26 percent from 3-point range.
For a team that leads the conference in scoring (72 points per game) and 3-point percentage (.377), it was an off night. Second- and third-leading scorers Rachel Clancy and Brittany Lange combined to go 3 for 17.
“We won the game, gritted it out and couldn’t have shot any worse, really,” Clancy said. “So it’s great that we can pull out a win even if we don’t have all the shots falling for us that we expect to fall.”
Mimanugh looked to the team’s defense for the bright spot. UC Riverside’s point total was the second-lowest of any Cal Poly opponent this season.
The Highlanders shot just 15.8 percent on 3-pointers, and Rheya Neabors, who came into the game tied for the team lead at 12.5 points per game, fouled out with nearly 14 minutes left. She left 0 for 7 from the field and with only three made free throws.
Neabors had three first-half fouls and played just seven minutes before the break. Amber Cox and Marissa Rivera also had thee fouls at halftime for UC Riverside.
Cal Poly point guard Ashlee Stewart sat most of the game in foul trouble after picking up three in the first half as well, and Santiago, Tratter and Clancy each went into the break with two.
Each team shot 15 first-half free throws, something that may have accounted for all of the off-rhythm shooting.
“Oh, my gosh, that was crazy,” Santiago said. “I felt like every possession, we were walking down to the free-throw line. I was like, ‘What’s going on here.’
“It was good for us getting to the line, and I don’t think it really slowed down our momentum a whole lot.”