Forward Kristina Santiago has been the backbone of the Cal Poly women’s basketball team all season.
Coming into the game ranked third in the nation in scoring with her 23.6 points per game average, Cal Poly’s successes, or struggles, as a team often depend on Santiago.
With her team trying to stop a three-game Big West Conference losing streak, Thursday night was no different.
Santiago scored a team-high 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to end Cal Poly’s losing streak with a 74-64 win over Pacific in Mott Gym.
“One thing coach always tells me is my attitude on the court and my energy determines the team’s energy,” Santiago said. “Sometimes when I get down on myself, it can easily bring the team down. So, I really try to keep my energy level up, keep talking to the girls and encouraging them even when I am a little down on myself.”
Santiago did just that against the Tigers, as Cal Poly maintained the lead for the entire game.
The Mustangs started the game on a 16-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Christine Martin less than five minutes into the game.
Pacific got within 21-11 after a Brianna Johnson layup with under 10 minutes left in the half, but a few possessions later, Ariana Elegado hit a short jumper in the paint and then hit a 3-pointer to make it 26-11 with 8:37 left in the half.
A 3-pointer from Pacific’s Sam Pettinger put the Tigers within eight points, and a layup from Claire Conricode cut the deficit to 32-29 with 3:23 left in the half.
But Cal Poly (7-12, 4-3 Big West) answered with an 8-3 run to close the period, and took a 40-32 lead into the break.
“We really just tried to keep the intensity up and stick with the principles of what we were trying to do,” Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “I thought that our other payers attacked early in the game, and it really created opportunities for Kristina in the second half.”
The Mustangs needed them after Pacific cut the deficit to four on a 3-pointer from Kendall Rodriguez six minutes into the second half.
But Santiago, who scored 19 of her points in the final 20 minutes, answered. She turned what was an eight-point lead at the half into a 12-point lead with 12:29 left in the game after two free throws.
The Mustangs then got out to as much as a 17- point lead off a layup from Santiago with 4:05 left in the game, and Cal Poly didn’t let up.
“I definitely felt like it was a team effort,” Santiago said. “I thought a lot of people were hitting open shots with all the double teams, and I thought we were really stepping up and attacking the gaps after we kicked it out.”
Martin was the Mustangs’ second-best scorer with 14 points, going 3 for 4 from behind the 3-point line. Kayla Griffin had eight points and seven rebounds to help the Mustangs end their recent losing skid.
“We talked about establishing our own road,” Mimnaugh said. “The road that you are on, if you don’t like it, you can build yourself a new one. For us, we’ve lost games because we haven’t been able to get stops at the end of games.
“So we really preached defense, spent a good majority of practice on defense and I thought it paid off.”