The Cal Poly women’s basketball team found itself trailing conference favorite UC Davis before Saturday afternoon’s game at Mott Gym even began.
The Mustangs were assessed a technical foul before tipoff because of a malfunctioning red light on one of the backboards, and the Aggies converted two free throws to tie the record for the quickest points scored in NCAA history.
That would be the only malfunction Cal Poly would suffer all night.
Rachel Clancy scored a career-high 31 points, freshman Molly Schlemer had a career-high 12, and the Mustangs made a big statement with a 74-65 win over UC Davis in a Big West Conference game.
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“It was huge,” Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “I thought we had great poise on the court.”
Through the first half it looked as if the light malfunction may come back to haunt the Mustangs.
Cal Poly, which was playing without center Abby Bloetscher and guard Ashlee Burns for the second straight game because of disciplinary issues, was unable to take a lead in the first half after falling behind early.
The Mustangs tied the score four times only to see UC Davis (12-4, 2-2) respond with a run.
And with Bloetscher and Burns still out, Cal Poly (7-7, 3-0) found itself playing just six players — the starters and Schlemer.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be called on to step up, but I just tried to prepare myself,” Schlemer said.
Schlemer, a 6-foot-5 freshman center from Righetti High, was a crucial presence down low for many scenarios in which she was the only post player.
“The thing about Molly is she’s really coachable,” Clancy said. “Even the few mistakes she made on the court today, we were giving her a hard time about it. But she takes onboard everything you say. She’s one of those players that tries to apply immediately what you say.”
With the absences of Bloetscher and Burns throughout the week, the Mustangs have used a five-guard starting lineup, a rarity in college basketball.
But they needed Schlemer to clog the middle, make cuts to the basket and box out.
Despite a noticeable size disadvantage, the Mustangs were able to hang with UC Davis on the glass, and were outrebounded by just three, 35-32.
“Our little lineup is going really well,” Clancy said. “The only concern is rebounding, but we’ve been doing a really good job with that, and, I mean, it’s tough for them because we have a lot of good shooters on the floor and some pretty strong penetrators.”
On the offensive end, shooters have been getting wide-open looks at the basket because of the ball movement and the spacing of four legitimate 3-point shooting threats on the court at once.
It was no more apparent than watching Clancy hit 7 of her 13 3-point attempts, with all but a couple coming uncontested as the Aggies’ defense tried to catch up to the ball movement.
But is this the kind of offense that Clancy could envision the team using for the rest of the year?
“I think so,” Clancy said. “Also, because we’ve had so many people out with injuries and such, I just feel like I’m trying to be a little more proactive.”
The Mustangs put the game away in the second half, going on a 19-4 run that saw them take their first lead at 44-42 with 14:40 to go. After a Schlemer layup and Clancy 3-pointer made it 49-42, UC Davis wouldn’t get within three points the rest of the way.
It was not immediately apparent when Bloetscher or Burns would return to the lineup, although both were on the bench.
Desiray Johnston, who was suspended for Thursday’s win over Pacific, returned to the starting lineup to score eight points and dish out five assists.
Jonae Ervin had a career-high eight assists, and the Mustangs shot a season best 54.9 percent from the field.
Cal Poly’s undefeated start to conference play may seem surprising to onlookers, but Clancy said it doesn’t matter how the rest of the league feels about the Mustangs.
“The bottom line is we don’t care what the rest of the conference is thinking about us,” Clancy said. “We’re only thinking about us. All week we’ve just been focusing on what we have to do and it has paid off.”