Gary Stewart knows his team is the youngest in the Big West Conference.
The way the sixth-year UC Davis men’s basketball head coach sees it, though, that doesn’t mean it can’t be among the most experienced.
The Aggies, as part of a nonconference schedule highlighted by nine of their first 11 games being played away from the Pavilion, competed in their second tournament in three weeks at the U.S.A. Basketball Classic in Mobile, Ala.
After a Friday win over Tulane (3-2), UC Davis was defeated in the championship game by host South Alabama (4-3) on Saturday.
“One of the things we wanted to do when we scheduled this tournament was to prepare ourselves for postseason play and for back-to-back situations,” Stewart said. “We’ve done that with this and the World Vision Classic tournament.
“It gives the players an understanding of how their body will feel after the first night, how quickly you have to turn around and prepare for the next opponent.”
After flying back from Alabama on Sunday, UC Davis (2-5) has another quick turnaround. It makes the trip across the Causeway to face Sacramento State on Wednesday at 7:35 p.m.
Friday – UC Davis 76, Tulane 62
The Aggies were without their floor general on offense, but that didn’t stop them from making their stand on defense.
Joe Harden had 20 points with game highs of nine rebounds and four steals as UC Davis scored 27 points off 16 Tulane turnovers and held the Green Wave to 38.2 percent shooting in a 76-62 win on Friday.
Sophomore point guard Mark Payne traveled with the team but was held out after aggravating a shoulder injury on Nov. 23 against Portland.
“You take the starting quarterback off any team, and you’re different,” Stewart said. “But I thought we competed very well offensively. To generate a lot of our scoring opportunities from our defense was very satisfying.”
Dominic Calegari scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half for UC Davis, which trailed by three at halftime. It came out of the locker room to shoot 61.5 percent from floor and go 6-of-12 from beyond the arc to outscore Tulane 50-33 in the second half.
Eleven players saw the court for UC Davis. Todd Lowenthal received his first career start at point guard and reserve Ryan Silva played a season-high 24 minutes in place of Payne. The two combined for 16 points, five rebounds, six assists and two steals with only two turnovers in 46 minutes.
“I think that’s the most significant part of the night,” Stewart said. “You go back the last few years, and the lack of depth has really hurt us. An injury to Mark would have dissipated our team. Now we’re able to put in 11, 12 or 13 players, and tonight we needed to.”
Saturday – South Alabama 72, UC Davis 60
The Jaguars have made the NCAA Tournament two of the last three years, and they showed why on Saturday.
U.S.A. Basketball Classic MVP DeAndré Coleman had 19 points and 11 rebounds and Dominic Clifford added 17 points with five assists to lead an athletic South Alabama team to a 72-60 home win.
UC Davis was outrebounded 37-21, outscored 30-14 in the paint and limited to 40.8 percent shooting for the game.
“They are talented and they are good,” Stewart said. “They’re just very, very sound. They make good decisions with the ball, they are very hard to scheme against and they are very physical. I can’t overemphasize how good of a team they are. They’d do really well in the Big West.”
The Aggies matched the Jaguars point-for-point for most of the game until early in the second half. South Alabama went on a 12-0 run that lasted for 2:39 and proved to be the difference of the game.
“I think they wore us down a little bit,” Stewart said, “but we competed really well. There were a lot of good things that we did tonight. I liked how hard we competed. We really had a good mindset. We just missed some opportunities that normally we’d make.”
UC Davis had a scare when Harden suffered an ankle injury roughly five minutes into the game. The injury wasn’t serious enough to keep Harden from returning and playing 33 minutes. He finished with a team-high 13 points and a season-low four rebounds.
Harden was named to the All-Tournament Team after receiving the same honors at the World Vision Classic earlier in the month.
Payne missed his second straight game, although Stewart said if Payne had his way, he would have played.
“Mark desperately wanted to play yesterday and today,” Stewart said. “I think he probably told me in the two days [in Alabama] and the travel day of us getting here, upwards of honestly 100 times.
“The trainers said he could play if he felt like he could play, but ultimately I made the decision. When I see what I need to see, then I feel like Mark will be ready to play.”
Stewart has yet to determine the statuses of Harden and Payne for Wednesday’s Causeway matchup with Sacramento State.
MICHAEL GEHLKEN can be reached at email@example.com.