The last time the Cal Poly women’s basketball team met up with UC Irvine, the Mustangs gave the Anteaters a few chances in the final minute to pull out a nailbiter with offensive rebounds.
This time around, with UC Irvine missing the Big West Conference’s leading scorer, Cal Poly made sure there wouldn’t be nearly as much drama.
With a game-high 19 points from Rachel Clancy, a double-double in the post by Abby Bloetscher and five steals from Tamara Wells, the Mustangs (14-8, 10-1 Big West) cruised to an 80-70 victory in the first half of a doubleheader with the men’s team Saturday at Mott Gym.
Cal Poly has rebounded from its only conference loss with two straight wins and held on to a 21⁄2–game advantage over UC Santa Barbara in the conference standings.
Five Mustangs scored in double digits as they racked up 17 offensive rebounds and forced 25 turnovers.
“We’re not too concerned about how we’re going to get points,” said Clancy, who added six rebounds and three assists to her scoring. “It’s all about how we’re going to get defensive stops and get rebounds. We know that on any given night, we can have five, six, seven people in double figures. It’s all about getting defensive stops and getting rebounds, and that’s what we’re working on in practice every day.”
Idle since last Saturday, the Mustangs had plenty of practice time to prepare for UC Irvine, but after Thursday, they weren’t exactly sure what lineup they were going to be facing.
The Anteaters (13-11, 5-7 Big West) played without Mikah Maly-Karros, who averages 19.5 points per game and also ranks second in the conference with 9.7 rebounds per game, and trailed much of the game by double digits while searching for an offensive punch.
Maly-Karros has missed the past two games and remained in Irvine for unspecified reasons.
Without its leading player, much of the burden fell upon Jade Smith-Williams, who had 14 points and 10 assists for UC Irvine. Once the Mustangs, whose smallest second-half lead was five points, were able corral her, they pulled away for good.
“Jade Smith-Williams is a heck of a player,” Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “She really makes their team go. She controlled the game for them. Any time that she wanted to push and attack, she did a nice job with that.”
That’s where Wells figured in. The senior point guard scored six points and grabbed four rebounds, but her defense is what allowed Mimnaugh to play her 18 minutes off the bench.
Offensively, Caroline Reeves scored 12 points off the bench, and starters Kayla Griffin, Jonae Ervin and Bloetscher each scored 11. Bloetscher grabbed 11 rebounds.
Clancy had seven first-half points on 2-of-5 shooting from the field, even though UC Irvine attempted to deny her any open shots outside.
“She’s just so solid for us, she does so many things,” Mimnaugh said. “Everybody puts their best defender on her, and she does a super job of moving without the basketball, using her intelligence to still stay a part of it. Because a lot of players, when they’re under that kind of attack and contact the entire game long, sometimes they disappear. But I really appreciate the fact that she’s working hard to try and create opportunities for herself.”
Late in the half, Mimnaugh inserted Ashlee Burns, another outside sharpshooter, into the lineup opposite Clancy, and that seemed to open things up for Griffin and Bloetscher.
Bloetscher scored six, and Griffin had a team-high 11 before the break.
It was Griffin’s contribution that helped the Mustangs stretch their lead out before the half.
Cal Poly started the game jumping out to a 12-3 lead in the first five minutes as the Anteaters struggled to score without Maly-Karros.
Jacquelyn Marshall stepped up for UC Irvine, scoring on a driving three-point play and hitting two 3-pointers to tie the score at 14.
The teams went back-and-forth before the Mustangs were able to get some breathing room with a 3-pointer by Clancy, her only long-range attempt of the first half.
Griffin scored five straight points to stretch the Mustangs’ lead to 27-21 with 3:02 left. Cal Poly finished the half on a 9-5 run.
In the previous matchup, the Mustangs pulled out a 72-70 win as Maly-Karros went for 28 points and 12 rebounds. The Anteaters could have used her contribution, especially considering that 6-foot-5 freshman Molly Schlemer is out with an illness.
“If they had Maly-Karros, I think they would have dug into our lack of depth in the post,” Mimnaugh said. “So, I think that did help us in this particular game.”