When things weren’t going well for the Cal Poly women’s basketball team Saturday afternoon, the Mustangs turned to fifth-year senior Beth Balbierz.
The sharp-shooting guard from Folsom scored 11 of her 19 points during the decisive third quarter, propelling Cal Poly to its fourth consecutive victory, 70-58, over visiting Loyola Marymount at Mott Athletics Center.
With the Lions beginning the second half in a full-court pressure defense, Balbierz seemed to steady the Mustangs with her perimeter shooting. After trailing 48-41 with 5:35 left in the third period, Cal Poly went on a 26-2 run behind three 3-pointers from Balbierz, including one as time expired at the end of the third quarter to put the Mustangs ahead by six.
“She had a great performance today all over the court,” head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “She’s so smart defensively, she comes up with key plays and then offensively everybody knows that when the ball’s at the three-point line and she’s got her feet set that she’s pretty money on that.”
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Balbierz finished the game 6-for-9 shooting, including a 4-for-7 mark from behind the three-point line. Junior forward Hannah Gilbert also scored 19 points on 9-for-13 shooting and pulled down five rebounds with three blocked shots.
Cal Poly (6-3) put the game away early in the fourth quarter, with Gilbert, a Morro Bay High grad, scoring eight quick points to extend the lead to 65-50 with less than seven minutes remaining.
Loyoal Marymount (4-7) went cold from the field during that stretch and played more than nine minutes without a basket. The Lions were able to chip away at the deficit with a few free throws but never fully recovered on the way to their third loss in the last five games.
“The key for us is rebounding,” said Gilbert. “When we get rebounds we’re able to have control of the ball, we’re able to push the ball and run.”
Despite being outrebounded, 43-39, the Mustangs held Loyoal Marymount to 30.3-percent shooting from the field and limited the Lions to eight points in the final period.
Mimnaugh said she expects to see more of the same full-court pressure defense that flustered Cal Poly throughout the third quarter. After committing eight turnovers in the entire first half, the Mustangs turned it over five times in the first five minutes of the second half.
The Lions made sure to capitalize on those extra opportunities, making three 3-pointers to go ahead 48-41 midway through the third period. Mimnaugh called for a timeout at that point and the Mustangs settled back into a rhythm.
A few minutes later, Balbierz connected on back-to-back 3-pointers, giving Cal Poly a 49-48 advantage and the Mustangs never looked back.
“They fought through some fatigue and some mental fatigue for sure today,” Mimnaugh said, referring to the proverbial hangover from finals week. “But they had a patch there where they looked really, really strong defensively and were able to get out and run and create easy scores for us.”
Sophomore Dynn Leaupepe scored nine points off the bench and also grabbed five rebounds and handed out four assists. Twin sister Lynn Leaupepe had a similarly strong all-around performance, finishing the game with eight points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Cal Poly will be on the road for its next three games, beginning Thursday at Saint Mary’s. The Mustangs will play at CSU Bakersfield Dec. 19 and will play a No. 7-ranked Oregon State team that won the Pac-12 Conference last winter on Dec. 21.
“It’s a huge challenge for us. All the teams are top notch,” Mimnaugh said.
“We wish we had like two months to prepare for (Oregon State) instead of just one day, but it is what it is and we’ll go there and give it the Cal Poly try.”