Cal Poly

Backcourt guides Cal Poly women's basketball win

Cal Poly’s Ariana Elegado (5) makes a pass in the lane during the Mustangs’ 89-72 home win over UC Riverside on Saturday. Elegado scored a team-high 18 points.
Cal Poly’s Ariana Elegado (5) makes a pass in the lane during the Mustangs’ 89-72 home win over UC Riverside on Saturday. Elegado scored a team-high 18 points.

Ariana Elegado pulled up from well beyond the arc, while fellow guard Jonae Ervin got her three-point plays the old-fashioned way.

They were equally effective Saturday afternoon and equally responsible for lifting the Cal Poly women’s basketball team to its best home start in 10 years.

Elegado scored a team-high 18 points — including four 3-pointers — and Ervin added 14 as the Big West-leading Mustangs made quick work of league-worst UC Riverside, 89-72, at Mott Athletics Center.

“Once I hit my first shot, I felt like I could hit more,” said Elegado, who also dished out seven assists and grabbed five rebounds. “My teammates kept telling me to shoot.

“I felt like I was in the zone. I felt like I was on fire.”

The Highlanders (4-15, 0-6 Big West) scored the first bucket of the game, but Elegado wasted little time putting Cal Poly (11-8, 5-1) ahead for good.

The 5-foot-6 junior nailed three deep triples as the Mustangs opened up a 15-4 advantage en route to scoring their most points in a non-overtime game this season.

“She wanted the ball to show what she could do,” said head coach Faith Mimnaugh, whose team shot a season-high 53 percent from the floor. “What she can do is pretty sweet.”

Ervin scored back-to-back and-1 layups midway through the first half to extend Cal Poly’s advantage to 26-11.

The Mustangs led 45-26 at halftime and were up by as many as 27 in the second half to hand UC Riverside its 12th straight defeat.

“We can’t underestimate any team,” Ervin said. “Every team in our conference is pretty good. We just have to come out here, play our game and have fun.”

The win took on added significance as it marked the first time Cal Poly started 8-0 at home since the 2003-04 season. That team got off to a program-best 9-0 start before a loss to then-conference foe Idaho.

“Unlike some other teams in the Big West,” Elegado said, “we’ve really got a home-court advantage.”

While Ervin and Elegado had it going early, the third member of the Mustangs’ “Big Three,” Molly Schlemer, struggled to find a rhythm because of foul trouble.

Schlemer owned a five-inch height advantage over any UC Riverside starter, but was relegated to five points and 14 minutes of playing time courtesy of two fouls early in both halves.

Three of the calls came on the offensive end as the 6-foot-5 reigning Big West Player of the Year was battling to get position.

“We wanted her to go up with power,” Mimnaugh said. “Unfortunately, the refs saw it differently.”

In Schlemer’s stead, freshmen Maddison Allen and Hannah Gilbert saw their roles — and playing time — significantly increase.

Allen finished with six points and a game-high nine rebounds while Gilbert, a former Morro Bay High standout, had eight points and three boards in 14 minutes — nearly doubling her average court time.

“They played a ton of minutes, and they played well,” Mimnaugh said. “We didn’t skip a beat when they were in.”

Freshman Simone DeCoud scored a game-high 20 for the Highlanders, while Brittany Crain, the conference’s scoring leader at 19.7 points per game, was held to nine points on 4-of-15 shooting.

Mimnaugh didn’t mince words when saying how important it was to hold Crain, a 5-foot-8 sophomore guard, in check.

“I was talking to the team beforehand that Carmelo Anthony went off for a (New York Knicks record) 62 last night, and probably, Crain is the most similar kind of player in that she’s got all facets of her game that she can go to,” the coach said. “Maka Ofodu had the majority of the time in the first half trying to shut her down, and I think she did a great job.”

The Mustangs stifled Crain, helping to close in on a team milestone of their own in the process.

“It’s just our attitude playing at Mott,” Elegado said. “We come out on the court thinking, ‘Oh, we’ve got this for sure.’ ”