They’re champions, again.
A year after winning their first-ever share of the Big West conference crown, the Cal Poly women’s basketball team defeated Cal State Northridge 70-56 in Mott Gym on Saturday to clinch at least a share of the conference title for the second straight year.
“The whole mindset has been win a championship, get to the NCAA (Tournament), and nothing’s changed from that,” Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “That’s what our goal is, that’s what our mission is, and they understand we wanted to win a championship in the regular season, and we definitely feel proud that we were able to accomplish that.”
Forward Kristina Santiago was a big reason for that success. She led the Mustangs (15-12, 11-3 Big West) with a team-high 16 points and 15 rebounds, leaving her four points shy of breaking Laura Buehning’s all-time program scoring record of 1,843 points set in 1979-82.
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“Obviously that’s a huge award to get that accomplishment,” Santiago said. “It feels good to be up there with the best. You work hard, your goal is to play your best and win, and when you’re finally that close to breaking such an incredible record, it kind of feels like all your hard work’s paid off.”
The Mustangs are hoping that hard work will also propel them to their first ever Big West Tournament win. Last year’s trip to the final ended in heartbreak. After the Mustangs clinched just their second-ever trip to the tournament final, Cal Poly fell to rival UC Davis 66-49, a game in which the Mustangs never led.
However, in Mimnaugh’s eyes, this year has the potential to be different.
“I sure hope so, I think that we are the best team in the conference,” Mimnaugh said. “If the best team in the league pieces it together for three days, they have a shot of winning the championship and going to the NCAA (Tournament).
“This is the team they expected this year, and it took us a little bit longer to get to that place, but thank God we arrived.”
And the Mustangs sure arrived against Cal State Northridge. In Saturday’s first- vs. second-place bout against the Matadors, the Mustangs answered every Matadors run with one of their own and never trailed.
Guard Ariana Elegado put the Mustangs ahead to start the game, scoring the team’s first four points, and Santiago hit a jumper to put Cal Poly ahead 6-4 close to two minutes into the game.
A Santiago layup put the Mustangs ahead 10-4, before Cal State Northridge clawed its way all the way back to just a 12-11 deficit.
But with the Mustangs up just one possession, Cal Poly scored the next seven points to go ahead 19-11 with 10:48 left in the half.
The Mustangs were able to maintain the lead for the rest of the period, going ahead by 10 points off a three-point play from Kayla Griffin. The Matadors had a chance to get closer, but they airballed a 3-point attempt on their last possession, as Cal Poly took a 33-23 lead into the break.
Guard Ashlee Burns hit a 3-pointer close to three minutes into the second half to go ahead as much as 12 points. But Cal State Northridge then went on a 10-0 run to bring the lead to just two with 15 minutes left in the game.
And just as it had so many times before, Cal Poly answered, this time with another 3-pointer from Burns. The Mustangs never looked back — securing the team’s ninth straight win.
Cal Poly had four players score in double figures. Along with Santiago, both Elegado and Molly Schlemer scored 12, and Burns finished with 11.
Both Elegado and Griffin also had five assists.