Cal Poly

Cal Poly winning without style points

Long Beach State’s T.J. Robinson, center, makes a pass between Cal Poly defenders David Hanson, left, and Maliik Love during their Big West game in December. The Mustangs host Cal State Fullerton in a conference game tonight at 7.
Long Beach State’s T.J. Robinson, center, makes a pass between Cal Poly defenders David Hanson, left, and Maliik Love during their Big West game in December. The Mustangs host Cal State Fullerton in a conference game tonight at 7. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The Cal Poly men’s basketball team walked off the floor at UC Davis on Saturday with no more illusion left to conceal the Mustangs’ win-ugly philosophy.

In a two-game Big West Conference sweep of the Aggies and Pacific, Cal Poly averaged just 45.5 points, shot only 35 percent from the floor and sank five of 20 3-point attempts.

And the Mustangs are no longer bashful about admitting this: Only one statistic matters to them, victories.

“We had a couple hundred people at the Davis game sitting behind our section,” Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said. “We had parents, we had boosters, we had alumni, and when we walked out from that ‘ugly’ game, there was 200 people cheering for us, and they could care less what the score was. The score was that we won, not that we won ugly and that we won on a low score.”

The Mustangs are an interesting paradox in college basketball.

They’re one of the lowest scoring teams in the country (332nd out of 336 at 54.6 points per game), but with an overall game plan high on frustrating opponents, Cal Poly is competitive and is off to a second straight winning start to Big West Conference play under Callero.

Looking to improve on a 2-1 Big West record with a two-game homestand this week, the Mustangs tip off with tonight’s 7 p.m. game against Cal State Fullerton (6-10, 2-2 Big West) in the return to San Luis Obispo of former Cuesta College MVP and Titans senior Roger Guardia.

All alone in second place in the conference, the Mustangs (6-8, 2-1) finish the week welcoming UC Irvine (7-9, 1-2) to Mott Gym on Saturday, also at 7, hoping to continue their trend of stymieing opponents.

Pacific scored just 39 points and shot just 2 for 23 from 3-point range against Cal Poly. It was the first time Cal Poly held an opponent under 40 points since 1985. UC Davis was only 3 of 18 from long range against the Mustangs and mustered only 43 points.

The defensive streak dates back to a 51-45 loss to now-No. 6 San Diego State last month, where the Aztecs didn’t make a 3 in 18 tries.

In the five games since, Cal Poly has established itself as one of the best percentage defensive teams in the nation.

While the Mustangs shoot a paltry 28.4 percent from 3-point range, their opponents shoot consistently worse, an even more anemic 25.6 percent, which ranks Cal Poly third in the country in 3-point field-goal percentage defense.

The Mustangs have allowed only 57.9 points per game, a mark that ranks 11th nationally and provides the team with an identity that’s being embraced by the players.

“We’re comfortable with each other. That’s the main thing,” junior center Will Donahue said. “If we’re comfortable with each other, then we’ll be comfortable with whatever we do on the floor.”

Though defensive improvement was a sticking point in the offseason, Cal Poly did not come into this year thinking it would try to turn every game into a low-scoring affair.

But after injuries to two top guards changed the dynamic of the Mustangs backcourt, priorities shifted.

True freshman Maliik Love, for instance, was inserted into the starting lineup more for his physical presence than his ball-handling skills.

A 6-foot-3, 205 pound combo guard, Love typifies the feel on the team. Scoring points is just a fringe benefit to playing harassing defense.

“I know I’m a freshman, so I’m not going to get that many shots on the offensive side,” Love said. “I just do my part on the defensive side. Maybe I can get a few steals and help my team out on transition.”

MORE TV GAMES

Cal Poly announced Wednesday that it will have two more of its Big West Conference games televised. KSBY will televise the Jan. 27 game when Cal Poly hosts UC Santa Barbara at 7:05 p.m. Cal Poly’s March 5 game at UC Santa Barbara will be televised by local CBS affiliate KCOY.

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