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Cal Poly perseveres despite 0-13 BW mark

Feb. 15—There are 46, 617 people named John Smith in the United States, but only Cal Poly's basketball coach has the perseverance and optimism to lead through one of the NCAA's most challenging periods.

There are 46, 617 people named John Smith in the United States, but only Cal Poly's basketball coach has the perseverance and optimism to lead through one of the NCAA's most challenging periods.

Since winning last season's league opener on Dec. 29, 2022, the Mustangs lost their next 31 Big West games. They are 0-13 in league play this season.

"We have to keep at it, " said Smith, whose Mustangs host Hawaii tonight in the Mott Athletics Center in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "I don't let the last 30 games define who we are as a program. I try to get our guys to understand you're not defined by the wins and losses. You're defined by your every-day journey and what you do and how you approach things. That's what we're trying to do."

Smith noted the Mustangs have been competitive, but have had difficulty "finishing games." The struggles might be traced to injuries, inexperience and youth. Smith said the rotation includes two freshmen, a sophomore, two walk-ons and "three seniors who are banged up. It is what it is. We have to get better every single game and try to finish a game."

In the last meeting between the teams, Cal Poly committed 11 fouls—some intentionally—in the final 3 :26 in a frenetic comeback attempt. The'Bows scored 23 of their final 25 points on free throws.

Smith said he emphasizes playing hard until the final horn.

"It's my job to model and emulate what this is about, " Smith said. "It's more than basketball. In life, you can never quit. My mentality has been I've ascended in this coaching profession through that mentality. I don't feel like I'm ever down. I'm going to continue to fight until I find success. I'm never going to stop being that way as a person, as a leader. Hopefully my team takes that mantra on."

The Mustangs have had to navigate with ailing guards. Kobe Sanders, a 6-foot-8 point guard who is averaging 18.1 points, has played the conference schedule with a stress fracture in his foot. "It's what took him out last year, " Smith said. "It hasn't completely healed. It's in a tough part of his foot, and we're always on our feet."

Jarred Hyder has been on a rep restriction because of a slight MCL tear. Smith said Hyder participates in only one five-on-five session the day ahead of a game. "We want to limit the pounding on that knee, " Smith said.

The'Bows also have had to make adjustments because of injuries and circumstances. After 7-foot-1 Mor Seck suffered a season-ending ACL injury three weeks ago, Harry Rouhliadef and forwards Justin McKoy and Akira Jacobs have taken turns playing the five position behind starting center Bernardo da Silva.

McKoy, who rotates between the four and five, has become a more aggressive scorer and defender. While McKoy has always been a long-range marksman—six 3s against Long Beach State and 3-for-3 on 3s against UC Davis—he now also is attacking the paint. In the last five games, he has hit 68 % of his 2-point shots. In the first 11 Big West games, McKoy averaged 2.3 free-throw attempts. In the last two, he has hit 15 of 17 free throws.

With point guard JoVon McClanahan missing two games because of a shoulder injury, walk-on Kody Williams has provided a boost with his quickness (fastest'Bow in the three-quarter-court sprint ), drives, drive-and-pitchouts, and shooting. Williams scored a career-high 13 points against UC San Diego and the'Bows were at plus-14 points when he was on the court against UC Davis.

"It's perspective, " UH coach Eran Ganot said. "It's not what you don't have, it's what you have. It's not what you can't do, it's what you can do. It's staying ready, and Kody stayed ready."