Mustangs host defending champions in No. 1 South Carolina on Tuesday


SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — The Cal Poly women’s basketball team begins Tuesday with four straight home games and continues their tough non-conference schedule if they defeat the defending champion in No. 1 South Carolina hosts at the Mott Athletics Center.

Tip time against the No. 1 Gamecocks is set at 5:00 p.m. for the historic matchup. It will be a white out, with all fans encouraged to wear white to the game.

It is the first time in Division I history that Cal Poly will host both a defending champion and a No. 1 team at the Mott Athletics Center.

Tuesday’s game continues one of the toughest non-conference lists in the country to this point, as the Mustangs (2-2) already this season against UCLA, No. 2 Stanford and Fresno St.

Last week, the Mustangs fell 80-43 at No. 1 Stanford before beating Fresno State on the road 48-47 through a game-winning reverse layup by sophomore Annika Shah. In that game, Shah finished with a career-high 13 points.

Tuesday’s game against the No. 1 Gamecocks (4-0) will be the first meeting with them in program history. After winning the national championship last season, South Carolina is going 4-0 this year. On Sunday, they went to Palo Alto and beat No. 2 Stanford in overtime 76-71.

Led by legendary head coach Dawn Staley, South Carolina is bringing back four starters from last year, led by National Player of the Year winner Aliyah Boston and 10 letter winners overall. They placed first in the Preseason AP Poll and were selected to win the SEC in both the Preseason Coaches and Media Polls.

After Tuesday’s game, Cal Poly will host its annual post-Thanksgiving tournament. The Mustangs play Sacramento State on Friday at 12:00 p.m., followed by Saturday at 2:30 p.m. against San Jose State. There will be two neutral games on each of those days, with UTEP and San Jose State playing Sacramento State on Friday at 2:30 p.m. and UTEP on Saturday at 12:00 p.m.

Returning Mustangs: Despite losing two starters from last year, Cal Poly brings back a lot from last year’s team. Two of the team’s top three scorers are back this year.

Senior Guard Maddie Willett returns after finishing second on the team last year at 8.9 ppg while leading the team with three points and three points.

Elderly forward Julia Nielacna is also back, having averaged 8.3 ppg last season while playing in 24 of 25 games and starting 11.

In addition to those two, five players are back this season who played at least 22 games last year.

New Poles: Cal Poly added seven freshmen to this year’s team, four freshmen and three transfers to Division I. The three transfers consist of graduate student Nikola Kovacikova, graduate student Oumou Toure and junior Taylor Wu.

Kovacikova joins Cal Poly after previously playing at both Penn and Georgetown. Last season with Penn, she played in 19 games from eight starts. Off the court, she received Penn’s Norman J. Goldring Award and the George H. Frazier Award, which is given to a senior student with the highest GPA. She spent her first two college seasons in Georgetown. As a sophomore in 2019-20, she appeared in 27 games from 12 starts and was the Hoyas’ third-top scorer averaging 7.9 ppg.

Toure comes to Cal Poly after spending the last three years at Butler. She played her first season before missing the next two due to injury and the COVID pandemic. As a 2019-20 freshman, she was named to the Big East All-Freshman Team. That season, she appeared in 27 games, made 20 starts and finished second on the team with 9.1 points per game while shooting 46 percent from the field, resulting in 6.1 rebounds per game. She also led the Big East and ranked 45th in the NCAA with 2.33 steals per game.

Wu spent the last three seasons at California Baptist University, where she played in 70 career games. She made her mark as a freshman in 2019-20, averaging 6.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.7 apg in 18.4 minutes per game. She broke the program’s freshman single-game record after losing 37 points to Ottawa (AZ) and in the same game broke the program record for three-pointers set in a game of 10.

As a sophomore, she started 19 of 27 games, averaging 8.9 ppg, 1.7 apg, and 21.9 minutes per game. She scored 11 goals in double figures, including a season-high 15 against Pepperdine.