The conversational exchange has become an unofficial preseason tradition.
Before every year, UC Davis men’s basketball head coach Gary Stewart is asked by the media what his team’s goals are for the upcoming season.
And every time, Stewart gives a polite answer that carries the same underlying message:
Don’t worry about it.
Team goals are created by the team for the team, and that’s where he likes to keep them – inside the team.
So after the Aggies ended their nonconference schedule having won three of their last five games – the last of which was their largest victory of the season – and as the team prepared for its Big West Conference opener, the question again came up.
Again, Stewart played it close to the chest.
“Yeah, I’m going to have to go with the company line on that one,” Stewart said. “We do have goals. We have goals in relation to what we want to accomplish offensively, we have goals in relationship to offense and we have goals for our outcome.
“We talk diligently to the group about our expectations and how to get there, but I’m not sure that we need to go further into them.“
Not every goal may be known, but there is one sure to be near or at the top of the list:
This year, UC Davis wants to establish its place among the upper-echelon teams of the conference.
This week, the team will have its first chance.
Beginning today at 7:05 p.m. at Cal State Northridge, UC Davis opens Big West play with three conference games in six days. The Aggies follow tonight’s contest with home games against UC Riverside on Thursday and Long Beach State on Saturday.
UC Davis has spent months preparing for the conference part of its schedule, and this winter break was no different. The Aggies (5-8) played four games total, traveling to South Carolina to face The Citadel and Presbyterian before returning to The Pavilion to host Loyola and Dartmouth.
UC Davis, coming off of an 87-86 win over Cal State Bakersfield before finals week, opened by hitting 64.2 percent of its shots and holding The Citadel to 40.7 percent shooting for a 79-61 win. The Dec. 15 victory was the season’s first on the road.
Two days later, the Aggies came out flat and fell 82-69 to Presbyterian, which won its 14th straight home game.
“The way those games were structured, it was the same situation that we face in conference where we play a game, have a day in between and then play a game,” Stewart said. “We wanted to go through that to make sure we had an understanding of how their bodies felt after the first game, how to prepare for the travel and all that kind of stuff. That was the overall premise with which we constructed the road trip.“
Four days later on Dec. 21, the Aggies dropped a 95-89 shootout to Loyola. The Greyhounds (4-7) put up 51 in the second half, which may have been a blessing in disguise.
The loss served as an eye opener to the team of the defensive strides needed to be made before the Big West season.
“On defense, you want to disrupt their spacing. You want to do something that offsets their timing,” Stewart said. “We didn’t do that. We didn’t do that at all. They got into a very comfortable flow. We didn’t offer any resistance. We didn‘t take anything away.“
The Aggies then had a nine-day layoff before returning to action against Dartmouth. Stewart said he spent the time in between reviewing “hours and hours and hours” of film, and practice time was spent drilling defense.
The team didn’t have to wait long for a result.
On Tuesday, UC Davis scored 31 points off 27 Dartmouth turnovers and held the Big Green (2-9) to 27.5 percent shooting for a 72-41 blowout win.
“The way the schedule has played out, we haven’t had the practice time that we would have liked to have had,” Stewart said. “It’s nice to get that run from the Loyola game to the Dartmouth game where you can have all those hours of practice time without a game.“
Stewart, in his sixth year at UC Davis, said he’s never had a team this healthy heading into a conference play since he’s been here.
With the ball rolling from the Dartmouth win, the Aggies appear to have everything going their way as they look to accomplish their team goals, whatever those may be.
MICHAEL GEHLKEN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Winter break games
Dec. 6: UC Davis 87, Cal State Bakersfield 86
Dec. 15: UC Davis 79, The Citadel 61
Dec. 17: Presbyterian 82, UC Davis 69
Dec. 21: Loyola 95, UC Davis 89
Tuesday: UC Davis 72, Dartmouth 41