Cal Poly opens Big West Tournament Thursday night versus UCSB - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Cal Poly opens Big West Tournament Thursday night versus UCSB

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Four years removed from its first and only Big West Conference Tournament championship, the Cal Poly men's basketball program – seeded seventh for the fifth successive season – opens the 43rd Big West Tournament against No. 2 UC Santa Barbara on Thursday, March 8. Tip time inside the Honda Center in Anaheim for the last of four quarterfinal matchups is 8:30 p.m. with action televised live on Fox Prime Ticket. Opening Big West Tournament play against UC Santa Barbara (22-8) for the third time in the last five years, Cal Poly (9-21) split the 2017-18 season series against the Gauchos with each program winning at home (2018 also marks the third year in the last five seasons that the Mustangs and Gauchos met on the final day of the regular season then faced each other in the Big West Tournament quarterfinals). Cal Poly, seeking its first Big West Tournament victory since capturing the 2014 title, has faced UC Santa Barbara more often at the Big West Tournament (six previous times) than any other program. The Mustangs enter the Big West Tournament ranked 18th among 351 NCAA Division I programs with a 77.3 percent free throw mark. UC Santa Barbara, meanwhile, ranks 13th in Division I at just 10.4 turnovers per game and as the Big West's top scoring program with 76.4 points per evening. Thursday's Cal Poly-UC Santa Barbara winner advances to Friday's semifinal round with matchups scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. on ESPNU. With an automatic NCAA Tournament berth on the line, the 2018 Big West Tournament championship game is scheduled for Saturday, March 10 at 9 p.m. on ESPN2.

MEDIA ADVISORY, WE ARE CAL POLY: When referring to any Cal Poly athletics program, please use only "Cal Poly" to denote the school. Please refrain from using names such as "Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo," "Cal Poly-SLO," "CPSU," "Cal Poly State" and "Polytechnic State University." Cal Poly is a separate institution from Division II Cal Poly Pomona.

THE CONFERENCE OF CHAMPIONS: Seven different programs have won the Big West Tournament title in the last seven seasons, including UC Santa Barbara (2011), Long Beach State (2012), Pacific (2013), Cal Poly (2014), UC Irvine (2015), Hawai'i (2016) and UC Davis (2017). A 2018 Big West Tournament title by either Cal Poly, Long Beach State, UC Irvine, Hawai'i or UC Davis would help that program match UC Santa Barbara (2010-11) as the most successful Big West team of this decade.

CAL POLY AT THE BIG WEST TOURNAMENT: Cal Poly is 10-14 in 15 previous Big West Tournament appearances and, aside from their 2014 title, the Mustangs have advanced as far as the championship game in 2003 and 2007. Cal Poly has advanced to the semifinals in six of 15 Big West Tournament appearances (2003, 2006-07, 2012-14). Cal Poly's three semifinal losses occurred in 2006, when the fourth-seeded Mustangs fell versus No. 1 Pacific (68-57); 2012, when fourth-seeded Cal Poly dropped a 64-52 decision against No. 2 UC Santa Barbara, and in 2013, when a last-second Pacific shot eliminated third-seeded Cal Poly, 55-53. Overall, Cal Poly is 7-8 during its first tournament game, 3-3 in semifinal matchups, 1-2 in championship games and 6-7 under ninth-year head coach Joe Callero. Cal Poly is also 5-6 in Big West Tournament games played at the Honda Center.

CAL POLY VERSUS THE BIG WEST TOURNAMENT FIELD: In 15 previous Big West Tournament appearances, Hawai'i remains the only program Cal Poly has never faced (Hawai'i joined the Big West for the 2012-13 season). Below is Cal Poly's record versus current conference programs at the Big West Tournament.

CAL POLY VERSUS UC SANTA BARBARA: The most frequent opponent in Cal Poly's history, UC Santa Barbara leads both the all-time (71-35) and Division I (37-14) series and – including an 86-61 victory to close the regular season on March 3 – the Gauchos have defeated the Mustangs in eight of the previous nine meetings. Cal Poly broke a seven-game slide versus UC Santa Barbara by winning the opening game of this year's season series at home, 80-79 (Jan. 4). In the win, Cal Poly overcame a 23-2 deficit to begin the game.

CAL POLY VERSUS UC BARBARA AT THE BIG WEST TOURNAMENT: The Mustangs own a 3-3 mark versus the Gauchos at the Big West Tournament. The two sides last meet in 2015 as UC Santa Barbara eliminated Cal Poly in the tournament quarterfinals, 54-50. Prior to that, the Mustangs eliminated UC Santa Barbara in the 2006 quarterfinals (57-50), 2003 semifinals (67-52) and, in Cal Poly's largest margin of victory at the Big West Tournament, the 2014 quarterfinals (69-38). The first Big West Tournament meeting between the two programs came in 2002 with the Gauchos eliminating Cal Poly in the first round (74-65).

SECOND PLACE IS ONE OF THE FIRST LOSERS: During six of the past 10 Big West Tournaments, the No. 2 seed has lost its opening game. The four instances since 2008 where the No. 2 seed has prevailed in its first game came during the 2013 tournament (when Pacific outlasted UC Santa Barbara, 71-68), the 2015 tournament (when UC Santa Barbara edged Cal Poly, 54-50), the 2016 tournament (when UC Irvine topped Cal Poly, 84-64) and the 2017 tournament (when UC Davis defeated Cal Poly, 66-55). Under Joe Callero, Cal Poly is 4-4 during its opening game.

BIG WEST SEEDING: Thursday's Big West Tournament quarterfinal matchup marks the eighth consecutive game where Cal Poly will play as the lower seed. Cal Poly lost quarterfinal games as a lower seed in 2015, 2016 and 2017, played as a higher seed during each of its 2014 games en route to the title and was eliminated as a lower seed by Pacific in the 2013 semifinals. Cal Poly last played as a higher seed in 2013, eliminating sixth-seeded UC Davis in the quarterfinals, 64-41.

FOR STARTERS: With just one Mustang having started all 30 games in senior guard Victor Joseph, the Cal Poly program has used 10 different starting lineups this year with nine different Mustangs starting at least one game.

MUSTANGS ON THE LINE: With junior guard Donovan Fields ranked fourth among approximately 5,500 NCAA Division I players with a Big West Conference best 92.4 (73-for-79) percent free throw mark and senior guard Victor Joseph 32nd nationally and second among conference players at 87.2 (82-for-94) percent, Cal Poly leads the Big West and ranks 13th nationally with a 77.3 (351-for-454) percent team mark. Collectively, the Mustangs have shot higher than 80.0 percent from the free throw line 11 times this year, topping out with a program record 100.0 (11-for-11) percent figure versus Colonial Athletic Association regular season champion College of Charleston (Nov. 22). Both Fields and Joseph are in line to break the Cal Poly single season free throw record of 90.0 (54-for-60) percent, set by guard Reese Morgan in 2012-13. Fields, who started the year 28-for-28 from the free throw line, is the leading free throw shooter in Cal Poly program history at 89.5 (145-for-162) percent while Joseph ranks seventh all-time at 84.5 (158-for-187) percent.

MUSTANGS ON THE LINE, CHAPTER 2: With the Mustangs enjoying their highest free throw shooting season under ninth-year head coach Joe Callero, prowess from the line has been integral to Cal Poly's success this season. Cal Poly's nine wins have all come when the Mustangs have shot for a higher free throw percentage. Conversely, the Mustangs are 0-10 when the opponent shots for a higher percentage. Cal Poly's current 77.3 (351-for-454) percent free throw mark is one percentage point away from setting a new program single season record, currently held by the 1974-75 Mustang squad at 78.3 percent.

THE WELL-ROUNDED DONOVAN FIELDS: Ranked fourth among approximately 5,500 NCAA Division I players with a 92.4 (73-for-79) percent free throw mark and second in Cal Poly's lineup with 13.3 points per game, junior guard Donovan Fields also enters Thursday's matchup versus UC Santa Barbara ranked fourth among Big West Conference players with 4.1 assists per game, seventh with 1.2 steals per game and 13th in scoring. Fields has matched his career high of 23 points three times this year – at Santa Clara (Nov. 18), versus Cal State Fullerton (Jan. 6) and against CSUN (Feb. 22) – and reached double-digit scoring figures in 19 of 30 games. Averaging 12.3 career points per game, Fields has scored in double figures 38 times in 61 (62.3 percent) Division I appearances. His 11-assist effort versus Pepperdine (Dec. 2) stands as the highest single game total in 275 games under ninth-year head coach Joe Callero.

JOSEPH PACKS THE SCORING PUNCH: Cal Poly's leader with 24 double-digit scoring efforts in 30 games – including a career high 36-point performance versus CSUN (Feb. 22) and 33-point effort versus Cal State Fullerton (Jan. 6) – senior guard Victor Joseph ranks ninth among Big West players at 14.4 points per game. Joseph, whose 36-point effort versus CSUN marked the Cal Poly's program's highest scoring total in eight years, also ranks 32nd among NCAA Division I players with an 87.2 (82-for-94) percent free throw mark. Having scored in double figures 39 times in 61 career games (63.9 percent), Joseph is Cal Poly's active leader with a career scoring average of 13.2 points per game.

MEIKLE MAKES LATE SCORING PUSH: Having produced double-digit scoring figures in six of his last 10 games and averaging 10.8 points per evening since Jan. 25, senior forward Luke Meikle enters Thursday's matchup versus UC Santa Barbara third in Cal Poly's lineup at 8.8 points per game. Fourth among Big West players with an 85.2 (46-for-54) percent free throw mark, Meikle most recently scored 14 points at UC Riverside (March 1) after producing a season high 21-point performance versus UC Davis (Feb. 15). Overall, Meikle has scored in double digits 12 times this season.

BOARDING SCHOOL: Keyed by a career high 18-rebound performance versus CSUN (Feb. 22), junior forward Aleks Abrams is Cal Poly's leading rebounder in Big West play. Averaging 8.5 boards per Cal Poly's last eight games and 5.5 rebounds per 16 Big West games, Abrams recorded his first career double-double with 11 points and 11 boards versus UC Davis (Feb. 15).

CATEGORY TWO: With a team leading four doubles-doubles this season, junior forward Josh Martin has emerged as Cal Poly's leading rebounder at 5.0 boards per game and fourth leading scorer with 7.5 points per evening. Martin, who most recently scored 20 points at UC Santa Barbara (March 3), has produced a program leading seven career double-doubles. His 24-point performance at UC Irvine (Jan. 24) is the third highest total by a Mustang this season.

CAL POLY'S QUALITY CONTROL: No Division I program has committed fewer turnovers per game since the beginning of the 2012-13 season than Cal Poly, which has averaged just 9.98 turnovers per 186 matchups (1,857 turnovers total). Cal Poly, 82nd among 351 Division I programs thus far at 12.0 turnovers per game, has finished with a single-digit turnover figure nine times this season with a low of just four versus Notre Dame de Namur (Dec. 30), five against UC Riverside (Jan. 31) and six versus UC Santa Barbara (Jan. 4) and UC Irvine (Feb. 17). Cal Poly has led the Big West in fewest turnovers per game in each of the last five years.

ETC: During a 73-68 win versus the College of Charleston (Nov. 22) – the first game in program history against the Cougars – Cal Poly set a new program record with a 100 (11-for-11) percent mark from the free throw line … Cal Poly's Dec. 19 visit to SMU marked the first time in NCAA Division I history that two schools which feature Mustangs as a mascot played … Cal Poly improved to 38-1 against non-Division I opposition with a 73-40 home victory versus Notre Dame de Namur on Dec. 30 (Cal Poly became a Division I program to begin the 1994-95 season) … an 80-79 victory against UC Santa Barbara (Jan. 4) handed Cal Poly its fifth victory to open Big West play in the last seven seasons … Cal Poly's 19 three-pointers versus Cal State Fullerton (Jan. 21) were two shy of the program record while the nine blocks versus the Titans were one shy of matching the program record … Cal Poly's 68.8 (11-for-16) percent three-point mark versus Hawai'i (Feb. 3) marked the program's highest mark since shooting a program record 80.0 (12-for-15) percent at CSUN (Feb. 28, 2013) … Cal Poly's 8-for-8 three-point shooting start versus Hawai'i (Feb. 3) was also the program's best opening from the three-point line since matching an all-time NCAA record with an 11-for-11 start versus CSUN (Jan. 21, 2012) … Cal Poly's 92-84, triple-overtime loss to UC Davis (Feb. 15) marked the program's longest game since a 56-55 home victory against Cal State Dominguez Hills (Jan. 29, 1983).

-Provided by Cal Poly

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