GAME NOTES: The Cal Poly Mustangs continue their drive to perhaps their first Big West Conference Tournament title, as they clash with the UC Irvine Anteaters in the semifinals of the 39th annual event at the Honda Center tonight.
Cal Poly, which is the seventh seed in this year's tourney, scored a major upset on Thursday as it defeated second-seeded UC Santa Barbara. But it wasn't just a lucky day for the Mustangs, they completely dominated the Gauchos in a 69-38 final. The Mustangs had lost both regular-season battles with UCSB, including a 71-55 final just five days ago at home.
Meanwhile, the top-seeded Anteaters are aiming to get back to the championship round for the second time in as many years, after losing to Pacific in 2013 by a score of 64-55. Now 24-31 in this event over the years, UCI had virtually no trouble taking case of UC Riverside on Thursday, 63-43, in order to advance.
UCI won both regular-season meetings with the Mustangs, although the latest battle less than two weeks ago at the Bren Events Center was decided by only seven points (55-48). As a result, the Anteaters now lead the all-time series by a 24-20 margin.
The winner of this meeting heads to the title game on Saturday night to face either Cal State Northridge or Long Beach State for the right to take part in the NCAA Tournament.
Cal Poly's effort against UCSB was historic for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that it was the finest defensive effort for the Mustangs in just over two years. The 38 points allowed also represented the toughest defensive stance in this tournament since 2001 when Utah State scored a 50-38 win against Pacific.
Offensively, the Mustangs were paced by Ridge Shipley who scored a career-high 15 points in 21 minutes off the bench, converting all eight of his free-throw attempts. Joel Awich was a perfect 4-of-4 from the floor as he accounted for 11 points, matching the scoring of Kyle Odister who knocked down 3-of-5 shots behind the 3-point line.
UCSB turned the ball over 13 times, shot only 32.7 percent from the floor and was outscored by Cal Poly at the free-throw line, 17-0.
Just like the Mustangs, UCI dialed up the defensive pressure on Thursday, holding UC Riverside to a mere 29.4 percent shooting from the floor, including 3-of-12 behind the 3-point line. The Highlanders didn't have a single starter score in double figures as the quintet combined to shoot only 9-of-39 from the field. Over on the other side, Will Davis II accounted for a game-high 16 points and Luke Nelson dropped in 14 for the Anteaters as they got away with only 4-of-12 shooting beyond the arc.
The defensive effort by UCI wasn't out of the ordinary last night, but the same cannot be said for the performance turned in by Cal Poly, a program which is just 5-13 away from home this season. As great as it was to see the Mustangs dominate in all facets of the game, it is unlikely that it will carry over to tonight's contest.
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