Forward Kristina Santiago made history, yet again.
With her nine rebounds, Santiago became the all-team leading rebounder in program history with 699, helping the Cal Poly women’s basketball team remain undefeated in Big West play with a 71-43 win over UC Riverside in Mott Gym on Thursday.
Her performance broke Sherrie Atteberry’s rebounding record of 692 that had stood since 1987, adding yet another accolade to her long list of accomplishments at Cal Poly.
“What she has done is amazing,” Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “Even in a game like today, where there was a sizeable lead, I didn’t want to take her off the court because it’s just so much fun to watch her play. She is a tremendous player, tremendous person and has really been the face of Cal Poly for the last five years at Cal poly.”
Santiago didn’t just rebound, she scored a team-high 24 points against the Highlanders. She had a bit of help on the floor, though, as center Abby Bloetscher got her first minutes of the season. Her role was limited, scoring just two points with three rebounds in 11 minutes, but nonetheless Bloetscher was happy to record her first minutes since scoring 13 points and grabbing 12 rebounds against Cal in last year’s WNIT.
“It was a long time coming, but it was really just nice to get back out there, get running again,” Bloetscher said. “I think I was a little rusty, but that should go away within the next couple of games.”
Even with her limited role, the Mustangs (6-9, 3-0 Big West) didn’t fall behind in the first half, racing out to as much as a 10-2 lead close to six minutes into game.
They then extended that lead to 16 after guard Jonae Ervin hit a layup to make it 28-12 with five minutes left in the half. The Highlanders came as close as 11 after a 3-point play from Natasha Hadley, but the Mustangs took a 34-19 lead into the break.
“Riverside is a good team. They are athletic and they keep after you,” Santiago said. “So coach told us not to let up, keep doing what we do, keep playing hard. “
Cal Poly did just that. The Mustangs led by 17 points six minutes into the second half, after true freshman Kristen Ale completed a 4-point play.
The Mustangs led by as many as 36 with just over five minutes in the game, and UC Riverside couldn’t answer back.
“We started off a bit slow,” Mimnaugh said. “But I thought we picked it up in the second half and showed a little bit more of what Cal Poly basketball is all about.”
The win gives the Mustangs some much needed momentum after stumbling through their nonconference schedule. Despite starting the year 3-2, the Mustangs dropped seven consecutive games, hardly the result anyone expected after the Mustangs won their first ever share of the Big West title last season and advanced past the conference tournament for the first time in program history.
That’s all turned around in conference play, though. The Mustangs defeated UC Santa Barbara, the team that tied the Mustangs atop the standings a year ago, 61-58 to open Big West play, and then defeated Cal State Fullerton 76-69.
And with a big win over the Highlanders, the Mustangs are steamrolling through their early Big West schedule.
“Especially with our preseason,” Mimnaugh said, “every win is appreciated.”
Cal Poly 66, UC Irvine 50
David Hanson had 16 points, 12 rebounds and four assists to lead the Mustangs to a road victory over UC Irvine.
The performance marked Hanson’s third double-double in six games and helped the Mustangs to their first road victory in conference play this season.
Hanson’s game was going inside and out, grabbing three offensive boards and shooting 2 of 3 from behind the 3-point line.
Cal Poly (11-6, 2-2 Big West Conference) also received 16 points from Will Taylor and 11 points and eight rebounds from Chris Eversley off the bench.
With the score tied at 14 at halftime, the Mustangs outscored the Anteaters (6-11, 3-2) 42-26 the rest of the way. Cal Poly was up by as much as 18 late in the second half.
Dylan Royer added eight points, and Amaurys Fermin had seven points and three assists for the Mustangs.
Cal Poly’s defense held UC Irvine to a 36 percent shooting percentage in the game, and the Mustangs had 39-32 rebounding advantage. Cal Poly also had 14 second-chance points to UC Irvine’s two.
Daman Starring led the Anteaters with 15 points and nine rebounds, and Will Davis II had 13 points off the bench for UC Irvine.
The win was victory No. 100 for the Mustangs as members of the Big West.
Cal Poly will play at UC Riverside on Saturday at 7 p.m. before hosting Long Beach State on Thursday.
Tribune staff contributed to this report.