For the Cal Poly women’s basketball team, the theme this season has been consistent.
Step up and fill the void.
Without Kristina Santiago, Ashlee Burns and Christine Martin, three of last season’s top five scorers, the Mustangs have had to play a different brand of basketball.
Saturday was no different, as Cal Poly (9-6, 3-1 Big West) defeated rival UC Santa Barbara (6-10, 2-2 Big West), without the help of the team’s second-highest scoring player, Brittany Woodard, who suffered a season-ending injury last weekend.
With the senior forward on the shelf nursing a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the Mustangs looked to Big West Player of the Week Molly Schlemer, who recorded 28 points in the triple-overtime victory against Pacific on Jan. 12.
But, in standard fashion for this season, senior forward Kayla Griffin rose to the challenge of filling Woodard’s shoes, scoring 21 points with nine rebounds on the night.
“What a tremendous player,” head coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “With Woodard out we didn’t have the luxury of substituting a lot in the post and forward positions. Kayla had to lug quite a few minutes and I’m just happy for her because of the effort she put into this game. She obviously was one of the key reasons that we were able to come up with a win.”
Entering into tonight’s matchup, the Gauchos held a 51-14 record in the all time Blue-Green Rivalry series despite the Mustangs’ two-game series sweep last year.
“It’s a very big game for us,” Mimnaugh said. “Our athletic director let us know beforehand that this was very important for us. He wanted us to make sure we took care of business. He’ll be proud of us.”
From the start it was clear the Mustangs didn’t plan on breaking their Blue-Green Rivalry winning streak.
Griffin and senior Caroline Reeves ignited the offense, combing to give the Mustangs a 10-0 lead in the first four minutes.
And by the 15-minute marker, Schlemer made it known that her recent accolade was no fluke, recording six rebounds and leading the Mustangs with ten points in the first half.
“The mentality is just go out there with a lot of confidence and have that mindset that no one can stop me,” Schlemer said. “Even though I know that I will still have off games, right now that mentality is really working out for me.”
The Gauchos slowly chipped away at the Cal Poly lead, but still could not capture it in the first half, which concluded with the Mustangs on top, 28-22.
“Santa Barbara runs so many sets and they execute so well,” Mimnaugh said. “We prepared all week for them. I felt like we executed very well and obviously shot the ball well.”
Griffin, who in the second half recorded 12 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals, helped give her team a commanding lead in the final period.
“We have had trouble sometimes in the second half coming out a little flat,” Griffin said. “I wanted to go out hard and get some rebounds and push the break.”
And Schlemer wasn’t finished either, matching Griffin’s 12 points in the second half, and ending the night with a team-leading 22 points and eight rebounds.
“With Woodard going out, we needed another leading scorer to come in and help us,” Schlemer said. “(Griffin) has proven time and time again that she can be that player. She knew that we needed her just as much as we needed any one else. She had that role and ran with it.”
Saturday’s game was the Mustangs’ last of a three game, three victory home stand.
The Mustangs will hit the road next week to face Hawaii for the first time in Big West play on Thursday and conference-leading Cal State Northridge on Saturday.
“We’ve got to spend some time watching some film to come up with a game plan,” Mimnaugh said. “Hopefully we can get some things done, prepare for them and just have that one day to prepare for Northridge. It’s going to be quite an ask of our players this week but hopefully we will continue to keep our energy about us.”
For now, the Mustangs can enjoy their third consecutive victory against the Gauchos, and yet another instance in a season of new heroes coming up big every night.
“It’s just one of those games where someone stepped up,” Griffin said. “Today it was my turn.”