After losing five games in a row to end December, UC Davis was reminded by coach Sandy Simpson that with Sunday came the beginning of Big West Conference play and a new season.
The team started off its new campaign and the new year in commanding fashion, downing Cal State Northridge 86-66 in its conference opener to give Simpson his 200th career victory.
“[Sunday] is a new season,” said Simpson before the game. “It’s league play. If we win, we are 1-0. We have to play well and start feeling good about ourselves.“
Sophomore Paige Mintun helped the Aggies feel better by scoring a career-high 25 points on 8-for-16 shooting, grabbing 10 rebounds, dishing out seven assists and getting six steals to go along with three blocks.
“You aren’t going to see many lines like Paige’s,” said Simpson. “We are not an individual focused team but that is as good of a line as I have seen when you put all those numbers across the board.“
The Aggies also saw the return of freshman Vicky Deely, who had 12 points and three rebounds off the bench in her first game since Nov. 14.
“I was really nervous going into the game because I didn’t know how fast I was going to catch on to everything,” said Deely. “Being out there with everyone was a really good feeling that I really missed. Being out there and contributing was awesome.“
UC Davis dominated the second half, controlling the pace of the game defensively and offensively. The Aggies outscored the Matadors 50-33 after intermission.
The players associated their improved play to working harder during practice.
“We had three really good practices in a row,” said Mintun. “Our defense in practice was better than it has ever been.“
It showed during the game as the Aggies forced 26 Matador turnovers, 19 of them coming off steals.
“It felt really good,” said Mintun. “These three days of practice have built our confidence. Confidence is important during the game. We feel really good because of that and putting a win under our belt definitely helps.“
The Aggies dominated as a team offensively as well, scoring 28 field goals on 24 assists while shooting 48 percent from the field as a team, including 53 percent from long range.
“We really did move the ball well,” said Simpson. “We made good choices and some of those assists came on kick outs for threes as we shot really well from the perimeter. Overall I can’t be displeased.“
“We were having fun out there which I think is one of the reasons we did so well at the end,” said Deely. “We started having fun and not thinking about things too much. We just played.“
The Aggies will continue league play when they travel to UC Riverside on Thursday.
MAX ROSENBLUM can be reached at email@example.com.