Through five games this season, the UC Davis men’s basketball team has proven that it can play winning basketball.
The only task left is to prove it for 40 minutes.
The Aggies dropped to 1-4 after a pair of single-digit losses, falling on the road to Arkansas before losing to Portland in its home opener.
“I really think that there’s just been five minutes in the second half where we just played bad, and that’s the difference,” said senior Kyle Brucculeri following the loss to Portland. “It’s just five minutes that we just don’t play. That was the story against Arkansas and that was the story in the first two games against Iowa State and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“To me, that’s the thing. We’ve got to find a way, especially in the second half, to play for 20 minutes.“
Thursday – Arkansas 68, UC Davis 59
Razorbacks coach John Pelphrey had seen enough.
With 17:06 left in the second half, his team was up by 15. Now, less than four minutes later, Dominic Calegari’s 3-pointer had cut the lead to four.
Pelphrey called a 30-second timeout, adjusted his team’s defensive scheme, and Arkansas responded from UC Davis‘ surge with an 11-2 run en route to a 68-59 home win on Thursday.
“They were a different club toward the end,” Pelphrey said of the Aggies, who matched the Razorbacks (2-0) with 32 points in the second half. “They were playing at a high level and cut the lead down to four. We switched to zone and that really helped us out.“
After the switch, UC Davis went 0-for-5 from the field with four turnovers over the next 4:22. For the game, the Aggies shot 32.7 percent from the field and 30 percent (9-for-30) from beyond the arc.
The 30 3-point attempts were UC Davis‘ most since it attempted 31 against Pacific on Jan. 20, 2007.
“We just didn’t shoot the ball really well,” said Aggies head coach Gary Stewart. “We settled for some 3-point opportunities when I thought we had opportunities on the interior. But I can’t fault our effort. I thought our kids competed very well. It was just an uphill battle.“
Sunday – Portland 75, UC Davis 72
The Pilots were on the ropes.
In a flurry that lasted for over five minutes, the Aggies landed blow after blow on both sides of the floor during an 18-5 run that cut their deficit to 62-61 and electrified their home crowd.
Portland was being pummeled to submission, but the knockout blow never came.
Aided by its strong free throw shooting down the stretch, Portland survived the attack and held on to win 75-72 at The Pavilion.
“Right now that‘s the story of our team,” said Joe Harden, who scored six of his 16 points during the run. “We show signs of greatness, but we can‘t seem to close it. We‘re trying to figure out what‘s missing because something is missing. We‘re going to get into practice tomorrow and try to figure out what that is.
“We’ve built leads, and tonight we came back from a big deficit. We’ve got to find a way to win and right now we’re letting it slip.“
Like the Arkansas game three days prior, UC Davis struggled at times against the zone defense.
Portland came out of the locker room running the zone, and head coach Eric Reveno attributed the switch as a major factor behind his team’s 15-1 run that opened the half and put the Aggies behind 45-29 at 15:21.
During the slide, UC Davis shot 0-for-4 from the floor with five turnovers.
“We didn’t take care of the ball and some poor decisions led to some easy opportunities,” Stewart said. “In a game that came down to one possession, you can ill afford to give teams that many easy baskets.
“They had 27 points off turnovers tonight, a 27-to-13 differential. You’re not going to beat many people with that stat.“
The Pilots (1-3) went 7-of-8 from free throw line in the game’s final 44 seconds to close out the win.
Brucculeri scored the first eight points of the Aggies‘ second-half rally and finished with a team-high 17 points. Harden led all players with nine rebounds.
MICHAEL GEHLKEN can be reached at email@example.com.