The way the Cal Poly women’s basketball team played in its 84-74 home victory over Pacific, it was as if it hardly mattered who was on the court.
“I can’t say enough about the effort that they gave,” Mustangs head coach Faith Mimnaugh said, “an entire team effort, and I’m just proud of them.”
But it wasn’t the “entire” team.
The high-point total, the season low in turnovers and the career highs all over the stat sheet probably mattered much more, though, considering who was on the Mustangs’ bench Wednesday night at Mott Gym.
Already without injured star Kristina Santiago for the season and a few others who’ve succumbed to injury, Mimnaugh held out three players — including two starters and the team’s second-leading scorer — for violating unspecified team rules.
Senior guard Desiray Johnston, junior sharpshooter Ashlee Burns and junior center Abby Bloetscher, who combine to average nearly 25 points per game, did not play.
Mimnaugh said she expects to return only Johnston to the lineup for Saturday’s showdown with Big West Conference preseason favorite UC Davis (11-3, 2-1 Big West) but declined to give specifics on the length of the other suspensions or whether more were forthcoming.
“They’ll be back soon,” Mimnaugh said. “Players are going to be in and out. I never know game-to-game who is going to be healthy.”
As Cal Poly (6-7) improved to 2-0 in the Big West, five players scored in double figures against the Tigers (4-12), who dropped to 1-2.
Caroline Reeves and Jonae Ervin had career highs with 19 points apiece, Reeves added eight rebounds and Tamara Wells scored 10 points to go with seven assists and a career-high six steals.
Senior guard Rachel Clancy also scored 19, including three 3-pointers, and sophomore Kayla Griffin scored 15 and grabbed 12 rebounds in a starting five where every player was listed at guard.
Only three players came off the bench for the Mustangs, combining for only two points, but the streamlined lineup committed just 12 turnovers, and the smaller Mustangs outrebounded Pacific 36-28.
“You never know what’s going to happen throughout the year with injuries and any kind of circumstances,” said Ervin, who eclipsed her career game high of 11 with 14 points in the first half alone, “but we were all in it together. The players on and off the court, we all trust each other, and we knew we could win and that this could be a big game for us.”
Without the suspended players, it looked like Cal Poly was going to get blown away early.
Pacific hit its first seven shots from the field, including three 3-pointers, and cruised to a 17-6 lead in the first four minutes, when the Mustangs shuffled from a man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone.
Erica McKenzie sandwiched two 3-pointers around three straight field goals by Kendall Rodriguez.
“They came out on fire,” Reeves said. “They were just hitting everything, and we weren’t pressuring them as much as we should have.”
But the Tigers cooled off, missed their eighth attempt (a Rodriguez jumper with 6:49 gone in the first half) and Cal Poly began to find some rhythm on both ends of the court.
The Mustangs went on a 12-2 run — capped by Clancy’s first points, a spot-up 3-pointer from the left corner — to get back in the game.
Whereas Cal Poly was at a size disadvantage with the suspensions, the Mustangs were able to take over with quickness. Ervin, a 5-3 guard, exploited her matchup by driving the lane, and Griffin’s and Reeves’s efforts to get to the paint helped Clancy get open from the outside for 10 points in the first half.
Cal Poly appears poised to try to replicate the small-ball success against the UC Davis, which features all-conference first-team center Paige Mintun, a 6-2 senior who’s averaging 13.5 points per game and ranks in the top five in the Big West in scoring, field-goal percentage and blocked shots.
“I sure hope it’ll work,” Mimnaugh said. “They’re huge. Hopefully, our pressure will bother them.
“They’re so finely tuned. They have players across the board that have so much experience. There’s a reason they were voted preseason favorites.”
Cal Poly 43, Pacific 39
The Mustangs held an opponent below 40 points for the first time since 1985.
As it turns out, the Mustangs needed every bit of it.
Shawn Lewis scored 11 points to break the career 1,000-point plateau, David Hanson added nine points and five rebounds, and Cal Poly edged Pacific in a Big West Conference game at the Alex G. Spanos Center in Stockton.
Leading by a point with 25 seconds remaining, Will Donahue tipped in a missed jumper to give Cal Poly a 42-39 lead.
The Tigers (8-7, 1-2) had a chance to tie, but with eight seconds remaining, Demetrece Young’s 3-point shot was blocked by Maliik Love. Hanson hit 1 of 2 free throws after being fouled to put the game away.
The 39 points were the fewest allowed by the Mustangs in a game since a 40-37 win over Cal Poly Pomona in 1985.
Donahue finished with eight points and seven rebounds for Cal Poly (5-8, 1-1), which held Pacific to just 27.5 percent shooting from the floor and a dismal 2 of 23 (8.7 percent) from 3-point range.
Lewis became the 16th player in school history to score more than 1,000 points as a Mustang.
Young, who led all scorers with 13 points, finished just 1 of 8 from distance.
The Mustangs continue their conference road swing at UC Davis beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Tribune staff contributed to this report