Caroline Reeves wasn’t exactly sure how all of this was supposed to go.
The Cal Poly women’s basketball team’s senior guard had never even seen an NCAA Tournament selection show. The Mustangs had never been in one, let alone on the bubble.
Not only did Cal Poly secure a spot in the field of 64 for the first time in program history with a Big West Tournament title on Saturday, the Mustangs were also awarded a No. 14 seed and will face a team they believe they have a chance to compete against.
“For it to finally happen was such a huge blessing,” Reeves said after watching Cal Poly’s draw announced on ESPN during a selection show party at Firestone Grill on Monday. “I still don’t really understand it because I’m so used to ending the season depressed and bummed that we’ve lost and OK, now what are we going to do next year? But there’s no next year for me anyway, and we ended our conference season on a good note.”
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Cal Poly (21-10) will face No. 3 seed Penn State (25-5) in Baton Rouge, La., at 1 p.m. Sunday. Reeves said the Mustangs were happy to avoid a No. 16 seed that would have matched them up with a tournament front-runner such as Baylor, Notre Dame, Stanford or Connecticut.
The Lady Lions, ranked eighth in The Associated Press poll this week, are 2-2 in their past four games with losses to unranked Minnesota and Michigan State.
Penn State also traveled to Cal Poly’s fellow Big West Conference member Cal State Northridge in November, beating the Matadors 85-73 only after the Lions erased a 17-point first-half deficit.
“I was told that we had a chance of being a 14 seed,” Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh said, “and I’m pleasantly surprised that actually happened for us. I think the improvement of the Big West is part of the reason we were able to see that type of seed.
“It gives me great hope that we may not just totally be pounded. We may be able to play with them. We’ll see.”
Mustangs leading scorer Molly Schlemer will have an interesting matchup against the frontline of Penn State.
The 6-foot-5 center from Righetti High averaged 13 points and seven rebounds this season, stepping up her game during conference play en route to becoming Cal Poly’s fourth straight Big West Player of the Year.
She will likely match up against 6-foot-4 Lions center Nikki Greene, who averages 8.9 points and 8.2 rebounds, but Schlemer has held her own against like-sized competition before.
Schlemer had one of her best games in the season opener at nationally ranked Oklahoma State, scoring 21 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
She also came up just a few rebounds short of double-doubles against Cal and Oregon State, which feature taller front lines than most every Big West program.
“I was pleasantly surprised with how she did in our whole preseason,” Mimnaugh said.
“I’m hoping that they don’t bring double teams. If they’re feeling they can handle their own because they’ve got a big, then I think that she’ll do well. If they bring double teams and make her get rid of it, then other people have to step up.”