March 8, 2021
Abbey Ellis gets another shot at Big West Tournament glory
Cal Poly's sophomore point guard has another chance to win some hardware
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Last year’s Big West Tournament was supposed to be Abbey Ellis’ coming out party. Although the tournament was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it still was — in a way.
After being named to the Big West All-Freshman Team as well as being an All-Conference Honorable Mention, Ellis dropped 20 points and eight rebounds in the first round of the tournament as the No. 8 seeded Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mustangs upset No. 5 Long Beach State.
She followed that up with a 30-point outburst in the second round in another upset of No. 3 seed UC Irvine. The Mustangs were all set to square off against the top-seeded UC Davis Aggies for a spot in the tournament championship game when the country shut down.
Now as a sophomore, she’s picked up right where she left off. On pace to be an All-Conference selection, Ellis is a big reason why the Mustangs as a No. 6 seed, could be poised to make a couple of surprises once again as the Big West tournament gets underway this week.
Although she had a strong freshman year, it took her some time to get used to the pace and the physicality of the NCAA game. A native of Australia, playing in college was much different than what she experienced as a teenager back home.
“College basketball is much more physical, fast-paced, and the women who play are much bigger and stronger compared to what I have played with all my junior basketball career,” Ellis told The Next. “Some adjustments or things I focused on in my second year was how to draw contact in the paint, increasing my three-point shooting range, as well as trying to keep as fit and fast as I can to keep up the pace in the game and push the ball up the floor.”
Ellis was a sensation before coming over to the United States. She had an extensive career playing in the Australian Youth National system helping lead the U-16 team to the Australian Junior championship in 2016. She attended school at Our Lady of Mercy, an Australian powerhouse, and helped win back-to-back Girls Sport Victoria championships in 2017 and 2018.
While basketball in Australia may not have been as quick or physical as the NCAA, there were some things that Ellis picked up that allowed her to make major strides these past two years.
“I think my Australian basketball experience helped me with my skills and basketball decision making. I feel like back home they stress good shooting technique, great handles, three-point shooting, and being disciplined with setting up and calling plays,” Ellis said. “Knowing that I have some skill and experience with me from Australia, I felt like it gave me the confidence on the court and in a new team here in college.”
Playing for a head coach like Faith Mimnaugh has also been a key factor in Ellis’ development. Cal Poly has consistently been one of the better teams in the Big West under Mimnaugh and she led the team to their first and only NCAA Tournament appearance in 2013. She got her first start as an assistant under the legendary Kay Yow at North Carolina State before transitioning to head coach at Evansville and then to Cal Poly where she’s been since 1996.
Mimnaugh showed tremendous trust and faith in Ellis when she handed her the starting point guard position as a freshman and it’s paid off in a big way. Ellis has formed incredible chemistry with senior forward Sierra Campisano in a formidable inside-outside punch. Ellis believes her development wouldn’t have been the same without Mimnaugh at the helm.
“Coach Faith basically allowed me to be the player I am to the best of my abilities. Committing to Cal Poly she told me what my role would be and I accepted it,” Ellis said. “Her guidance has made me a better player and I would not be the type of player I am today without her support and expertise. By allowing me to play my role and other players play their role, I feel like our team connection on and off the court has built and is only getting stronger.”
And part of the trust that Mimnaugh has in Ellis is allowing her the offensive freedom to decide when to look for her shot and when to create easy scoring opportunities for her teammates. She’s averaged 15.6 points per game over her two seasons at Cal Poly, and she’s had some explosive offensive performances.
She won the Big West Player of the Week last season after dropping 37 points in a win over UC Riverside. This season, after another conference Player of the Week award, she netted 39 points in a win over San Diego State. She’s a crafty guard who has a knack for getting into the lane and she’s a consistent three-point threat.
Ellis knows she attracts a lot of defensive coverage with her ability to put up points in a hurry, and she’s become a master of reading the defense and making the correct play whether it’s taking the shot or dishing out an assist.
“I think it really depends on how the defense is playing myself and my teammates. There are times where scoring may not be an option and so setting up teammates with away screens, back cuts, and drive kicks would be more efficient,” Ellis said. “I also think that sometimes the momentum of the game and when a scorer is ‘feeling it’ is the time to score, take over and take advantage of the hot hand. We have many scorers on our team which makes decision making easier as we have multiple ways of getting the bucket we want.”
With the ongoing pandemic, the end-of-the-year conference tournaments were not always a given. Earlier in the season, Ellis was unsure if the Mustangs would get a chance to show last season’s run was no fluke.
But the Big West tournament is here and Ellis is eager to show her continued development. She believes this team is a talented one that is capable of making another strong postseason run.
“I’m personally hoping to continue my current form and not decline or plateau, but keep getting better each time I step out on the court which doesn’t always mean the stats,” Ellis said. “I think we are a high-caliber team with expectations that we can exceed.”