Shawn Lewis helped Drake U’u make an emphatic comeback to the Cal Poly men’s basketball lineup, and the Mustangs broke a two-game Big West Conference losing streak with a 65-56 win over visiting UC Davis on Thursday.
U’u, who had been out since Dec. 11 after breaking his non-shooting left hand, got his cast off more than a week ago but hadn’t logged any playing time.
When he finally got on the court, U’u tossed a high lob to Lewis for an emphatic two-handed fast-break alley-oop dunk in the middle of a 19-9 run that broke open a four-point game.
Though U’u has hardly been on the court since breaking his hand against UCLA, the synergy he and Lewis showed appeared well-practiced.
“I kind of knew right away,” U’u said about the play Lewis started on a give-and-go after making one of Cal Poly’s nine steals. “We each kind of made eye contact. I knew he wanted the lob. He kind of pointed.
“With Shawn, you can kind of throw a terrible pass. It really doesn’t matter. He’ll make you look good.”
Inciting the Mott Gym crowd of 2,262, it was the second dunk of the night for Lewis, pushing Cal Poly’s lead to 51-42 with 7:34 left. Just 14 minutes later, Cal Poly (10-11, 5-4 Big West) had its largest lead of the night at 59-45.
“I just basically tell the guys just throw it up there, and just let me get it,” Lewis said. “I just knew Drake was going to throw me that lob.”
Will Donahue had 13 points and nine rebounds, Maliik Love added 11 points and David Hanson scored 10 and had a team-high three assists for the Mustangs.
With a hand he said was somewhere between 80 and 90 percent healthy, U’u had four points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal in 14 minutes off the bench.
Lewis finished with 23 points, one fewer than his season high, to lead all scorers and grabbed eight rebounds. It was the fourth straight game the senior has scored 20 or more points, but Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero was more impressed by Lewis limiting himself to one turnover in a game-high 35 minutes.
His recent performances are enough to wonder about Lewis’ candidacy for postseason honors.
“We certainly hope so,” Callero said about Lewis setting himself up to make the All-Big West team. “Shawn and David deserve consideration. ... You’ve got to keep winning. You just don’t get all-conference selections if you slide down the scales.”
All alone in second place two conference games ago, Cal Poly was in danger of falling into a four-way tie for fifth place had the Mustangs lost to the Aggies (8-13, 3-6 Big West). Instead, they’re back in second, tied with Cal State Northridge and Pacific.
Cal Poly immediately attacked UC Davis down low, outscoring the Aggies 34-20 in points in the paint and shooting 46.8 percent from the floor.
UC Davis led for just 3:08 and never had more than a one-point advantage.
The Mustangs had one of their typical defensive nights. Coming into the game ranking third in Division I with an opponent 3-point field goal percentage of 27.5, Cal Poly forced UC Davis into a 2-for-14 shooting night from 3-point range. The Aggies were also just 35.6 percent from the floor, with leading scorer Joe Harden just 2 for 11.
One atypical aspect to the Mustangs’ game was their below-par shooting effort at the free throw line.
Cal Poly had a season-high 40 free-throw attempts, which was 10 more than its next highest, a 30-attempt outing in the season opener at Seattle.
But the Mustangs sank just 19, good for only 47.5 percent. That’s well under their season average (67.8 percent), and the main offender was Lewis, who was just 5 for 14.
Lewis and Cal Poly have one day of practice to work on free throws before Pacific visits Mott Gym on Saturday. Lewis said it might have been some friendly trash talk over who should be shooting technical free throws at practice this week that threw him off.
“It felt so weird,” said Lewis, who was shooting 78.5 percent on free throws in conference play, 10th-best in the Big West. “I’ve been shooting free throws really good the last five, six games. I don’t know what happened tonight. I have no excuses.”