HANDLE ON THE BALL
Cal Poly averages nine turnovers and its total of 297 ranks sixth nationally for fewest. Its assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.31 ranks 37th.
For the Mustangs to hang with the Shockers, that careful stewardship of the basketball must continue. On Wednesday, Cal Poly committed one turnover in the first half against Texas Southern and built a 12-point lead.
We make a daily habit of taking care of the basketball, coach Joe Callero said. We start from Day 1 talking about passing and catching. Meet the pass, two-hand passes, shortening up the passing lanes.
This is nothing new for Cal Poly. The Mustangs ranked first nationally with 302 turnovers last season and ranked fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.46).
Assists are great, but taking care of the ball the most important thing on defense is taking care of the ball on offense, Callero said. Weve reiterated that to our guys over and over that we have a chance to be really good if we can get the offense going.
The Mustangs listen. Like at WSU, players run or do pushups for committing turnovers.
A great pass is one that gets there, senior Chris Eversley said.
The Mustangs averaged 63.8 points and made 41.4 percent of their shots this season. In the past four games, they are averaging 68 points and shooting 47.5 percent from the field.
Callero waited for that part of the game to click.
Our defense has been very good, he said. Our shooting percentage has been poor. In this last four games, its been much better.
GET DONE AND GET MOVING
Cal Poly defeated Texas Southern on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio and hasnt stopped moving since.
After media duties and packing at the hotel, the Mustangs flew to St. Louis.
Got to the bus at 10:45, got to the airport at 11:30, took off by midnight, Callero said. Landed around 12:03 or 1 (a.m.) We got an hour back, that was nice, flying west.
On Thursday, the Mustangs practiced and talked more with the media.
Talk about whirlwinds, Callero said. Its probably the best for us. Having a week to think of Wichita State, a nationally ranked team, I think it could work against you.
Eversley described the past 24 hours as pandemonium.
It has been insane, he said. Hearing about city of San Luis Obispo going crazy and everybody having viewing parties.
READY TO WIN AFTER CHRISTMAS
WSU coach Gregg Marshall compares Cal Poly to Missouri State. The Mustangs held opponents to 43.3-percent shooting and 33.9 percent from three-point range, both fourth in the Big West.
Theyre not trying to turn you over, he said. Theyre playing underneath you and making you shoot over the top.
Marshall can relate to all that Cal Poly is experiencing as a heavy underdog. He made seven NCAA trips with Winthrop and the highest seed was No. 11. The Mustangs are 14-19, losing at Arizona, Oregon, Pittsburgh and Stanford.
I was in that boat that Cal Poly has been in where you play six or seven guarantee games, Marshall said. It is after Christmas when you realize you are not a pin cushion or punching bag.
AS GOOD AS FEARED
Callero took his first in-depth look at the Shockers on the plane after Wednesdays game.
You hear the stories about their defense, rebounding, teamwork and you go Wow, he said. Then you watch on film and you go, Oh, man, its all true. That was the disappointing part, that they are as good as it sounds.
The Mustangs will play their fifth game in nine days on Friday.
They play angry and for us to have a chance, we have to be furious, Callero said. Thats how strong and aggressive and confident and smart they are. We have to meet that right off the bat.
Cal Poly is trying to become the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed. On Thursday, Florida beat Albany to extend the record to 117-0.
Our motto to the kids right now: Dont worry about making history; worry about making the right play, Callero said. Worry about pump-faking, jump-stopping, worry about tracing the ball on defense. Worry about making a great block-off, because they have a plus-8 (margin) in rebounding.
By playing a tough non-conference schedule and storming through the conference tournament, the Mustangs believe they can compete.
They dont go undefeated for no reason, Cal Poly guard Jamal Jackson said. We just happened to catch fire at the right time. At the beginning of the season we struggled a little bit, but know that we are all shooting the right shots, I think theres no reason why we cant win.