When Molly Schlemer and Ariana Elegado came to the Cal Poly women’s basketball program in the same recruiting class three years ago, the 6-foot-5 center and 5-6 point guard became fast friends.
“You’d see little tiny Ari and big ol’ Molly,” Mustangs head coach Faith Mimnaugh said, “and I started calling them Twins, like the movie ‘Twins’ because they were pretty inseparable.”
And they’ve developed a close bond that carries over to their play on the court.
Elegado, a redshirt sophomore, found Schlemer, a junior, for a driving assist that Schlemer converted as the shot clock expired late in the game to clinch Cal Poly’s 47-43 victory over Hawaii on Saturday at Mott Gym.
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Hawaii took its first lead of the game at 43-42 on two free throws by Sydney Haydel with 7:14 left. Then, “The Twins came through again for us,” Mimnaugh said.
Finishing with 12 points, Elegado hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to take a two-point lead in the final two minutes, and after calling timeout with 20 seconds left, Mimnaugh set up a play to get either Elegado or Schlemer a shot.
Schlemer made it count to finish with a game-high 20 points, giving the Mustangs a four-point cushion, and Cal Poly held strong on the final possession as the Rainbow Wahine’s Viky Tagalicod airballed a desperation 3-pointer to end the game.
Schlemer also finished with a game-high 12 rebounds, and Jonae Ervin had a balanced game with six points, six rebounds and three steals for Cal Poly (16-9, 10-4 Big West Conference), which leapfrogged Hawaii (14-12, 10-5 Big West) into second in the conference standings.
The Mustangs are still one-half game behind Pacific for the conference lead, but a top-two finish in the standings is nearly as important as a regular-season Big West title.
Unlike the men, who play a traditional three-day, eight-team tournament, the top two seeds in the Big West Tournament women’s bracket get byes to the semifinal round.
With a loss, Cal Poly would have fallen 11⁄2 games behind Pacific and Hawaii with four more regular-season games to go.
That made the matchup with the Wahine a pivotal one, and it wasn’t easy.
After Hawaii took a 63-41 victory over the Mustangs on the islands late last month, Cal Poly jumped out to a 10-2 lead and held a double-digit advantage for much of the game Saturday.
With the Mustangs up 38-28 midway through the second half, the Wahine went on an 11-0 run capped by Haydel’s free throws to take the lead.
Kamilah Martin led Hawaii with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Shawna-Lei Kueju added 10 points.
Schlemer’s last-second shot was far from the only possession where the Mustangs were forced to shoot as the shot clock waned.
In their first year transitioning from the Western Athletic Conference, the Wahine repeatedly had the Mustangs struggling to avoid a clock violation with a physical defense that’s unmatched in the Big West.
“They were really tough,” Mimnaugh said, “and they played our point guard better than anybody that we’ve played this year.
“From a physical perspective, they were the biggest team. Certainly, there are teams that can probably match them in height and probably athleticism, but as far as physical strength, you’d be hard pressed to find another team in our conference that can match that.”