Competing in its first Division I season, the UC Davis women’s basketball team was enjoying an impressive campaign.
The Aggies won 19 games – the most the program has seen since the 2001-2002 season – locked up second-place honors in the Big West Conference and earned a bid to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
And within a 40-minute span, that all became a memory.
Playing in the first round of the WNIT on Mar. 20, UC Davis fell to host Gonzaga, 81-60, to close the book on a storied 2007-2008 season.
[Gonzaga] played terrific tonight on both sides of the ball, said head coach Sandy Simpson. We struggled to shoot the ball early. The few good open looks we got in the first half we didn’t knock down. And when you’re playing a team that’s playing as well defensively as that team is, you have to take advantage of the openings when you get them and we really didn’t in the first half.
The Bulldogs (25-8) held the Aggies (19-12) to 31.8 percent shooting in the first half. UC Davis went 14-for-28 from the floor in the second, but it wasn’t enough to battle back from a 33-19 halftime deficit.
It’s hard for the season to end in a loss, but unless you win the NCAA Tournament or the WNIT, that’s what’s going to happen, Simpson said. It’s discouraging not to play as well as we had been, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that we played well to get ourselves into this position.
The Aggies and Bulldogs got a regular-season look at each other back on Dec. 6 at the Pavilion. UC Davis was able to force 30 Gonzaga turnovers, but the Bulldogs prevailed, 71-58.
We kept forcing turnovers, but we didn’t take advantage of them, Simpson said. We didn’t make them pay on the other side. We gave them a window to get back into the game.
The Aggies didn’t have that same advantage against the Bulldogs in the WNIT, however, forcing 17 turnovers while committing 26 of their own.
The turnovers really fueled their transition game, Simpson said. They played an active, trapping zone that really pressured us.
Playing in her final game for UC Davis, senior wing Jessica Campbell netted a game-high 23 points on 9-for-12 shooting. Fellow senior Heather Bates went for a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) while sophomore guard Anna Harp added 13 points.
The Bulldogs had four players finish in double figures, including senior guard Michelle Elliott’s team-high 19 points. After netting 23 points and pulling down 12 boards in the two teams’ first meeting, West Coast Conference Player of the Year Heather Bowman was held to 12 points and two rebounds.
With the win, Gonzaga advanced to the second round of the WNIT, where it was eliminated by Colorado, 82-68.
UC Davis’ final game may have been a loss, but the season cannot be classified as anything other than a success.
Very few teams go from never having a postseason experience to something like a trip to the Final Four, Simpson said. You have to have had that experience to use it to your advantage, and this team has nudged open those doors.
ADAM LOBERSTEIN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.