ST. LOUIS — Cal Poly has stolen a chip off Wichita State’s shoulder. You know how it goes, Shockerland.
Team from a conference that doesn’t get national respect. So-called big boys don’t want to play you.
The NCAA Tournament has a way of forcing the issue. And that’s how Cal Poly coach Joe Callero sees Friday night’s game with WSU.
“If we’re ever going to be that program that has any national recognition,” Callero said this week, “you have to go play programs like Wichita State. We haven’t hid from anybody.”
Not that the Shockers ever dodged the likes of Cal Poly, but let’s not digress. Callero has a theme going here.
His Big West Conference team brings the only losing record in the tournament against a team with the best – and undefeated – mark in the dance.
But he likes to point out that he was finally able to schedule some heavyweights – although a few are more welterweights – this season.
“I asked the seniors if they wanted to play a schedule that we could win or a schedule that would challenge us and maybe have a losing record,” Callero said.
“Every one of them said, `Play as big, as best we can.’”
So they played big – and lost a bunch. Now 14-19 after defeating Texas Southern in Wednesday’s play-in game in Dayton, the Mustangs would have to win the national title to get to .500.
Cal Poly went 4-9 in the non-conference season after playing – and losing – to five teams in the tournament: Arizona, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Stanford and Delaware.
“Yes, we lost those games,” said Callero, “but we learned a ton about ourselves. We learned how to compete, keep your heads up.”
Even when injuries helped sink Cal Poly’s Big West season, losing 10 of 13 after a 4-1 start.
“We’re not going to play Division I and try to hide,” said Callero of the Mustangs, who are in their top-level NCAA Tournament since moving up to Division I for the 1994-95 season.
“We feel like we’re prepared to make this next step. We’re prepared for the big lights and the great teams.”