When the final buzzer sounded on Saturday’s loss to UC Santa Barbara in the conference championship, the Aggies run in Big West Conference play had come to a close.
UC Davis’ season – unlike seven of the conference’s nine teams – is far from over.
With their second-place showing in the tournament, the Aggies have locked up a berth in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. The bracket for the 48-team tournament will be announced today by 9 p.m., according to the WNIT’s official website.
Friday – UC Davis 63, UC Riverside 53
Sophomore guard Anna Harp said it took five minutes to wrap up her injured left leg to play against the Highlanders.
But she only needed five seconds to make an impact.
Five seconds after entering the game, Harp’s quick steal set the tone for the afternoon she was about to have. A native of San Jose, Calif., Harp scored 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting to help UC Davis to victory, 63-53.
I thought Anna gave us a great lift off the bench tonight, said head coach Sandy Simpson. For somebody who’s been out hurt for a while – really just started practicing a couple days ago – I thought she did a tremendous job.
Harp, who had not played since Feb. 23, entered the game with 6:43 remaining in the game’s first half.
I was a little nervous out there, Harp said. I just tried to relax and keep it loose because I sat on the bench a little while before I got in. I didn’t keep it moving and it really tightened up on me. I just played through it and focused on winning.
Staying true to what has led them to success all season, it was the Aggie defense that set the tone for victory. UC Davis held UC Riverside to just 15-for-55 (27.3 percent) shooting, allowing just five first-half field goals.
The first half – we were very fortunate to have the lead, Simpson said. I think you can point directly to UC Riverside’s shooting percentage in the first half keeping us in the game.
UC Davis’ offense, however, stole the show in the game’s second session, where the Aggies went 14-for-21 (66.7 percent) from the floor.
I’d just like to say how proud I am of our team, said junior wing Haylee Donaghe, who led the Aggies with 13 points and three steals. The fact that our team is so close, we respect the coaching staff so much – we just trust each other. I think that’s what’s gotten us this far in our first season of eligibility, which is a huge, huge accomplishment.
And after besting the Highlanders, the Aggies had one last Big West Conference accomplishment to pursue this season. UC Davis faces UC Santa Barbara for the Big West title Saturday at noon.
We have one more game tomorrow that we want to take care of to really meet our goals that we set for the season, Donaghe said. It’s just been a great experience so far this season, and we can’t wait for tomorrow.
Saturday – UC Santa Barbara 74, UC Davis 59
When Gaucho guard Jessica Wilson was subbed out of the game with 40 seconds to play, Simpson did the only thing he could – applaud her performance.
A senior out of Sacramento, Wilson had team highs in points (17), rebounds (seven) and assists (five) to lead UC Santa Barbara past UC Davis and claim the Big West title, 74-59.
She’s not the player of the year in this conference for nothing, Simpson said. It seemed like every time there was something going on, she was in the middle of it…. She’s hard to stop – there’s no question about that.
And while it’s difficult to fall in the conference’s championship game, it doesn’t take anything away from the positives the team experienced in its first season of Division I eligibility.
This has been a great season, and Santa Barbara played well, said senior wing Heather Bates. We lost to a very good team. I mean, obviously we wanted to win the Big West, but for our first year in Division I, I guess we’ll look back on this [year] as [being] pretty good.
But the 2007-2008 season is far from over for the Aggies.
By claiming second-place honors in the Big West, UC Davis has earned a berth in the WNIT.
It’s always nice to keep playing, said senior wing Jessica Campbell, who scored a game-high 25 points. I’m glad that we have more games left in our season. Like our coach said, we probably have a better chance of going further in the WNIT than we would in the tournament, so maybe that’s a bright spot in this.
And as the Aggies arrive on the WNIT scene, they do so with the respect of their Big West foes.
I have to congratulate Davis on a great season, said Gaucho head coach Mark French. I really felt like this championship game had the best two teams in it. It was a well-contested game, and I think Sandy and that whole staff and the program have done a magnificent job in their first official year in the Big West. They’re going to be very, very good in future years, as well, and we look forward to future rivalries.
ADAM LOBERSTEIN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.