ST. LOUIS — If you like underdogs, if you're looking for the slightest hope Cal Poly will have a puncher's chance against the 34-0 Wichita State Shockers, listen to Cal Poly coach Joe Callero.
And don't look at the 14-19 record Callero's 16th-seeded Mustangs bring into Friday's game against the No. 1-seeded Shockers.
"They play angry. For us to have a chance, we've got to be furious," Callero said Thursday, a day after his team beat Texas Southern in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio. "We're going to have to be furious because that's how strong and aggressive and confident and smart they are. And we've got to meet that right off the bat. It doesn't help to be our fifth game in eight days. but it's certainly going to keep us in that competitive mode, you know, we've got to love the blood.
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"Our thing is that if you get hit in the mouth, you've got love that blood because we're going to have to compete at the highest level we've ever dreamed of to shock the world."
The Mustangs from San Luis Obispo, Calif., started the season 0-3. They had injuries and lost nine of 11 games going into the Big West Conference Tournament. But as the seventh seed hey won three in a row, including a 61-59 win against Cal State Northridge in the final.
This is Cal Poly's first NCAA tournament appearance in 20 years of Division I basketball. They've got senior forward Chris Eversley, who scored 19 in the win against Texas Southern. He and fellow 6-7 forward Joel Awich are Cal Poly's two tallest starters .
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Callero even put a positive spin on playing five games in eight days?
"Sometimes that's good," he said. "Our guys haven't had too much time to think about the consequences of playing the No. 1 team. … I think that they're young and they don't think that much sometimes, and that's probably to our advantage right now.''
Cal Poly is the lone team in the field with a sub-.500 record. But it hasn't played an easy schedule. It's lost on the road against the likes of Arizona, Oregon, Pitt and Stanford. Last year Cal Poly won at then-No. 13 UCLA.
"Wichita State is 34-0, but they don't get to carry those games onto the court. They don't get spotted an extra 34 points for winning 34 games," said Callero, in his fifth season at Cal Poly after stints at Seattle University and University of Puget Sound.
"And we're not penalized for having a crappy record."
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Eversley, a 2010 transfer from Rice, credited improved shooting for the recent turnaround.
"The shots are starting to fall," he said. "That's the part that's kind of clicked. We struggled throughout the season, and now we're finally getting the right spots and guys are confident knocking it down."
Eversley said senior guard Jamal Johnson has directed that improved shot selection.
"Now that we're all shooting the right shots I think there's no reason why we can't win," Johnson said.
Callero said his team won't focus on making history as the first 16th seed to beat a No. 1.
"Our motto to the kids right now: 'Don't worry about making history. Worry about making the right play,' '' Callero said.
"Worry about pump faking, jump stopping. … Worry about making a great block-off because they have an eight-plus rebounding advantage every night. Our focus is on doing things in a basketball game that might be relevant to winning it, not being historical and the first 16 seed that turns Las Vegas on their head."
Knows the feeling: Wichita State Coach Gregg Marshall can relate to being a No. 16 seed. As coach at Winthrop University in North Carolina from 1998-2007, Marshall had three No. 16 seeds in the tournament.
In 1999, his No. 16 team lost to No. 1-seeded Auburn. In 2001, Winthrop lost a 16 vs. 16 play-in game to Northwestern State. In 2002, Winthrop lost to No. 1-seeded Duke.
Marshall recalled the matchup with Auburn in his first year at Winthrop.
"I thought we were going to win," he said. "I was preparing to win that game and to stick around Indianapolis, and it certainly didn't happen (80-41 loss).
"But that's what (Cal Poly has) got to believe. They're talented. If they keep shooting the way they are shooting, who knows?"
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