The Cal Poly women’s basketball team didn’t have Jonae Ervin to be the savior in the latest Big West Conference showdown against Hawaii.
The senior point guard, who had 37 points in an overtime win over the Rainbow Wahine on the island last month, was still out Saturday with a knee injury suffered a week ago.
But junior guard Ariana Elegado paid special attention to how the speedy-yet-diminutive Ervin was able to carve up the Hawaii defense by pushing the ball and driving into the paint.
“The fact that they couldn’t stop Jonae as a point guard,” stuck in Elegado’s mind, she said. “She just kept pushing and attacking the basket. I fed off of her. I really wanted to attack and try to get my teammates involved. They had a hard time guarding point guards.”
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So, as Elegado shifted to the point for Saturday’s matchup, the former high school point guard used a similar gameplan to account for 25 points, and senior center Molly Schlemer went over the 1,000-point threshold for her career as the Mustangs held on for a crucial 62-60 victory.
The win over the third-place Wahine (11-10, 5-4 Big West) helped Cal Poly (14-8, 8-1 Big West) maintain a two-game lead in the loss column on Cal State Northridge atop the conference standings heading into next Thursday’s showdown with the second-place Matadors, the lone Big West team to beat Cal Poly this season.
It was the ninth straight victory for the Mustangs at Mott Athletics Center, the longest home winning streak since 2003-04.
Playing all 40 minutes, Elegado was 10 for 20 from the field, including 3 of 8 from 3-point range, grabbed four rebounds, dished out five assists and had a steal and a block on defense.
She hit a driving floater to give Cal Poly a three-point lead with 19 seconds left, and after battling down low for the defensive rebound on the next possession, Elegado hit the clinching free throws before Hawaii sank a desperation 3 to end it.
“If she is not the best guard in the conference,” Mustangs head coach Faith Mimnaugh said, “I don’t know who is. I just think she’s great.
“She really is a clutch player, and I’m glad that she we was able to be the clutch player today.”
Ervin tweaked her knee in the first five minutes of an 84-79 victory at UC Irvine last Saturday. She missed the entire week of practice as Cal Poly was able to rest her through Thursday’s bye.
Mimnaugh said she expects Ervin to be back for Thursday’s game against visiting Cal State Northridge. The Mustangs are attempting to push their home winning streak to 10, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since the early 1970s.
Ervin is “such a brave person,” Mimnaugh said. “She was like, ‘Coach, if you need me, I’m ready to go today.’ It was my coaching decision to hold her back for another couple days here, so we can have her back full speed next week.”
Cal Poly initially struggled without Ervin in the starting lineup. Hawaii built an 8-0 lead in the opening minutes as the Mustangs started 0 for 4 from the field with two turnovers in their first six possessions.
The Wahine led 12-4 with 13:48 left in the first half before Cal Poly turned things around with a 19-6 run and went into the break with a 31-29 lead.
After scoring just four in the first half, Schlemer opened the second scoring 10 points in the first 4:12, sinking four layups and hitting two free throws.
Coming off a two-game stretch where she averaged 28.5 points and eight rebounds and earned Big West Player of the Week honors, Schlemer said she was not even aware she was approaching 1,000 career points.
It was not until Dave Grant, Cal Poly’s play-by-play announcer for its Internet broadcasts, tweeted the details that Schlemer found out.
“I came into this his game, and I just told myself not to focus on that because then it would just be, ‘You need to score, score, score.’â€ˆ”
Another Schlemer layup gave the Mustangs a 58-53 lead with 2:34 left. Her final score of the game, it gave her 1,001 career points. The former Righetti High standout becomes the 10th player in program history to reach the milestone.
Despite Cal Poly pushing its lead to 11 points in the second half, Hawaii fought back to get to within one at 58-57 with 47 seconds left.
Kamilah Jackson and Shawna-Lei Kuehu had 14 points apiece for the Wahine. Destiny King scored 11, and both Jackson and King tied for the team high with nine rebounds. Taryn Garza had a game-high 12 rebounds for Cal Poly.
Then Elegado took over in the final minute.
“It’s a really big win for us to win here,” Schlemer said, “but we’re already looking to next week to Northridge here because that’s our one loss” in conference play.
“We all believe we should have beat them at their house,” Schlemer added. “So just bring them into Mott gym and show them what Cal Poly basketball is all about.”