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UC Riverside Withstands Second-Half Cal Poly Comeback for 82-78 Win

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — The UC Riverside women's basketball team got out to a hot-shooting start on Saturday night and then withstood a furious second-half Cal Poly rally to hold on for an 82-78 Big West home win in SRC Arena.

The Mustangs scored their first three times up the floor for an early 7-0 lead, but UCR then went on an 18-4 run over the next nine minutes, and stayed on a roll until the end of the half, going 17 of 34 overall and 6 of 11 from 3-point range.

The Highlanders (3-3, 12-8), who welcomed their second-leading scorer (point guard Simone DeCoud) back to the starting lineup after a recent absence, didn't let up returning from the locker room, pushing their lead to 56-36 on a Michelle Curry layup 3:50 in.

That's when Cal Poly (4-2, 9-9), which is headed home with a conference road split, started its comeback. Junior guard Beth Balbierz and senior guard Kristen Ale both connected on back-to-back pairs of free throws, followed by a 3 from junior point guard Lisa Marie Sanchez.

Brittany Crain, the nation's fifth-leading scorer, sank a jumper to stem the tide, but senior guard Ariana Elegado responded with five straight points of her own, before freshman wing Dynn Leaupepe and sophomore forward Rachel Koehler each scored to complete a 16-2 run, making it 58-52 with 9:01 remaining.

A Balbierz 3 with 1:12 left cut the deficit to 74-70. The Mustangs even closed within three, at 81-78, on another Balbierz trey with six seconds to go, but Crain made a free throw shortly thereafter for the final margin (ending the game with 22 points).

Ale continued her strong week, following Thursday evening's season-high 20-point game at Cal State Fullerton with a nine-point opening half on the way to a 13-point night.

Elegado dished out six of her eight assists before the break, reaching the milestone of 400 for a career in the process. Later on, she also recorded the 1,338th point of her career, moving past Christine Rodness, a Mustang from 1991-95, into the No. 4 spot on the school's all-time scoring list. She finished with 23 on the night.

Senior forward Taryn Garza had five rebounds before the first media timeout, and finished with 12, one off equaling her career high. It was the fourth double-digit performance on the boards this season for last year's conference hustle player of the year.

Garza moved beyond the 350-rebound plateau as a Mustang (356), and has 444 altogether in college, including her freshman year at Pacific.

Cal Poly will return home to face UC Davis at 7 p.m. Thursday and UC Irvine at 4 p.m. Saturday in Mott Athletics Center.