Cal Poly

Notebook: Cal Poly men’s basketball team returns home for Blue-Green Rivalry

Cal Poly’s David Nwaba shoots over a defender during a nonconference men’s basketball game at Mott Athletics Center.
Cal Poly’s David Nwaba shoots over a defender during a nonconference men’s basketball game at Mott Athletics Center.

The Cal Poly men’s basketball team will play its first home game in 40 days at 7 p.m. Thursday when UC Santa Barbara visits Mott Athletics Center for the first edition of the 2016 Blue-Green Rivalry.

Both the Mustangs (6-8) and Gauchos (6-8) opened Big West Conference play with a loss at Hawaii last week, and a rivalry win could go a long way for two teams trending in opposite directions.

Cal Poly went 1-5 during a difficult six-game road trip that included games against potential NCAA Tournament qualifiers Saint Mary’s, USC and Texas A&M. The team’s overall health was a lingering question heading into the Hawaii game, with starters Ridge Shipley, Joel Awich and Brian Bennett dealing with injuries.

But an eight-day break in between games could help the Mustangs get back to full strength against a talented UC Santa Barbara team.

The Blue-Green Rivalry has been largely one-sided in favor of the Gauchos in recent years. UC Santa Barbara won all three matchups last season — including a 54-50 victory in the Big West Tournament quarterfinals — and has beaten Cal Poly in 10 of the past 13 meetings overall.

UC Santa Barbara senior guard Michael Bryson is one of the top returning players in the Big West, and he leads the conference in scoring at 19.5 points per game. The 6-foot-4 Sacramento native played a leading role in helping the Gauchos take a four-game winning streak to Honolulu last week.

He scored 17 points in an upset victory over Pac-12-leading Washington in late December and poured in a career-high 36 points on nine 3-pointers in a win against Seattle two nights later.

Despite Bryson’s 16-point, 10-rebound performance at Hawaii, UC Santa Barbara was outscored by nine points in the second half en route to a 65-57 setback.

Llaverias, Thornton earn Cuesta honors

Women’s basketball player Angela Llaverias and wrestler Will Thornton were selected as the Cuesta College athletes of the month for December.

Thornton, who competed at 197 pounds early in the season before dropping to 184, ended his freshman year as the Cougars’ highest-ranked wrestler and posted a 25-11 overall record.

Despite a late shoulder injury, Thornton placed fifth at the CCCAA regional and state meets, helping Cuesta to a 13th-place finish at state.

The Cougars were 10-2 in dual meets this season and won their third consecutive SouthEast Conference title.

Llaverias has been one of the most consistent players for Cuesta during a challenging women’s basketball season. She has helped the team overcome a series of injuries by playing several positions and averages a team-high 34 minutes per game.

One of only three Cougars to participate in all 18 games, Llaverias averages 7.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per contest and has made 19 3-pointers this season.

Two Mustangs selected for USA Softball

First-year Cal Poly assistant softball coach Ally Carda was selected for the 18-player U.S. Women’s National Team earlier this month, and Mustangs’ associate head coach Gina Vecchione was chosen to be an assistant on the U.S. Women’s Elite Team.

Carda, a former All-American at UCLA, competed for USA Softball last year and helped the Americans win a gold medal at the 2015 Japan Cup. Carda earned MVP honors after pitching 14 scoreless innings with eight strikeouts.

The U.S. Women’s National Team is scheduled to compete at several tournaments during the summer, including the World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma City, the World Baseball Softball Confederation Women’s World Championship in British Columbia and the Japan Cup.

Vecchione is entering her fourth season at Cal Poly, working mostly with hitters, outfielders and also coaching first base. She will be one of three assistants under head coach Tairia Flowers on the U.S. Women’s Elite Team, which also will compete in the World Cup of Softball this summer.