The UC Davis men’s basketball team is knocking on the door.
Last weekend at the World Vision Classic, the Aggies went on the road and built a lead of 14 points or more in the second half of each of its three season-opening games.
“We haven’t done that,” said head coach Gary Stewart, whose team returned from Ames, Iowa with a 1-2 record. “We haven’t had particular success on the road over the last couple years. We’re making some strides, and now we have to finish. And that’s usually the last piece of the puzzle.“
After finishing strong in its third game of the tournament, the Aggies travel to Arkansas to face the Razorbacks on Thursday.
Friday – Iowa State 61, UC Davis 58
Nothing but hype has surrounded Joe Harden since the forward transferred from Notre Dame to UC Davis in June of 2007.
On Friday, in his Aggie debut, he lived up to it.
Harden led all players with 19 points and 12 rebounds as tournament host Iowa State rallied late to edge UC Davis 61-58.
“He was terrific; he was as advertised,” Stewart said. “I thought he was the best player on the court and had a presence on both ends of the floor.… I couldn’t be happier with him. And the good thing about it is that he has the room to get better, which is even more encouraging for us.“
The Cyclones, who trailed by as many as 14 points in the second half, closed the game on a 15-4 run in front of a home crowd of 13,135.
Saturday – Wisconsin-Milwaukee 81, UC Davis 75
The Aggies looked like a different team after halftime.
Unfortunately for them, so did the Panthers.
UC Davis struggled from the floor after a blistering first half, and Wisconsin-Milwaukee took advantage, roaring back from a 24-point halftime deficit to shoot 70.4 percent from the field after the break and upend the Aggies 81-75.
It was the second time in as many days that UC Davis saw a second-half double-digit lead unfold for a loss.
“It was such a difficult loss for us the night before, and we had such a great response in the first half,” Stewart said. “In the second half, it was one of those things where they scored in three straight possessions, we got tight, they got aggressive and it steamrolled on us. We couldn’t put two stops together, and that was to our detriment.“
In the first half, the Aggies shot 52.6 percent and held the Panthers to 34.5 percent shooting to take a 51-27 lead into halftime. In the second half, they shot just 28 percent from the field while being outscored 54-24.
“For us, it’s the next stage in the evolution to close games out,” Stewart said. “Even in Europe, the three wins were all come-from-behind wins. Now it’s a different animal to take the lead and sustain that type of consistent mindset and energy you need to withstand those types of runs.“
Ryan Silva came off the bench to lead UC Davis with 17 points. Harden had his second straight double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Ricky Franklin led five Wisconsin-Milwaukee players in double-digit scoring with 18 points. He also had a game-high six assists and was 4-of-6 from long distance.
Sunday – UC Davis 64, Loyola Marymount 55
Vernon Teel had sent that sick feeling from the Aggies‘ first two losses back onto the court of the Hilton Coliseum.
After UC Davis led by as many as 18 points in the first half, Teel’s pair of free throws brought Loyola Marymount back to within single digits at 52-44 with 9:04 left in regulation.
But then, just as it appeared another loss was beginning to slip away, the senior had seen enough.
Kyle Brucculeri hit with a jumper in the paint and then a 3-pointer that put the Aggies ahead by 13, and UC Davis didn’t allow the Lions to get back to within single-digits until the closing seconds of its 64-55 win.
“Kyle’s trying to do everything we ask of him to do, and I was happy to see him make some shots,” Stewart said. “I really applaud our kids. They fought back. It’s been a very adverse situation for us, and they easily could have felt sorry for themselves and do the same thing we did in the first two games.
“But our guys hung in there. Sometimes the ground balls that you’re not fielding are the ones that are kept getting hit to you, and tonight we executed.“
Brucculeri finished with 14 points and was 3-for-5 from beyond the arc. Dominic Calegari also scored 14, and Harden fell just short of his third straight double-double with a team-high 16 points and eight rebounds. He was named to the All-Tournament Team.
Of the four teams in the tournament, UC Davis was the only one to lead by at least 14 points in the second half of each game it played. Despite only coming away with one win, Stewart said his team’s ability to stretch out to those leads will “bode well for the future.“
“It’s the same with life,” Stewart said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to turn the page from yesterday. Sometimes those lessons are hard to learn. There was no celebration in the locker room [after the win]. The guys were clearly disappointed that we didn’t beat Iowa State and they were equally disappointed to not finish the game against Milwaukee-Wisconsin.
“Today they were agitated, yesterday they were angry and on the first day they were disappointed. All in all, a lot of things we learned about ourselves, and hopefully we can apply those to better play moving forward.“
MICHAEL GEHLKEN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.