One week into its Big West Conference schedule, the UC Davis men’s basketball team has to like where it stands.
The Aggies either led or were within two possessions of taking the lead in the final minute of all three games.
Most recently, UC Davis (6-10, 1-2) hosted UC Riverside (9-6, 2-2) on Thursday and Long Beach State (9-7, 4-0) on Saturday. The Highlanders and 49ers entered The Pavilion with a combined 5-0 in Big West action.
One team couldn’t stay perfect, and the other was taken to the wire despite an early large lead.
Thursday – UC Davis 65, UC Riverside 58
The Aggies won’t be running into any NBA all-stars during Big West play, but that doesn’t mean they can’t prepare as if they were.
UC Davis treated UCR’s star transfer Kyle Austin like an all-pro, and the effort resulted in Austin’s second-least efficient offensive night of the season in a 65-58 Aggies win.
“Going in, we talked to our guys about treating him like Kobe, like a Dwyane Wade,” said coach Gary Stewart. “He’s a good player. He’s going to get his points. Let’s make it difficult for him, make it difficult to catch and let’s have him shoot 17 or 18 times to score his 17 or 18 points.”
Austin ended up with a game-high 17 points on only 8-of-21 shooting, and his most costly missed shot was also his easiest.
Inside the game’s final two minutes, the junior Southern California transfer clanked a two-handed dunk that would have brought the Highlanders to within one.
Instead, Mark Payne snatched the defensive rebound, pushed the ball in transition to Joe Harden, and the sophomore scored on a layup while being fouled to boost the Aggies’ advantage to five.
The four-point swing was part of a 10-2 run that UC Davis went on to close out the game.
Payne led the Aggies with 16 points of 4-of-6 shooting. He also had a game-high 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season.
Saturday – Long Beach State 86, UC Davis 78
Not even the most drastic of runs could get the Aggies to go quietly.
Long Beach State scored 40 of the first half’s final 50 points, but UC Davis rallied to cut a 23-point deficit to five before finally succumbing 86-78.
“It was too little too late,” said forward Dominic Calegari. “That’s really what it came down to. If we would have played the way we played in the second half for the whole game, it’s a completely different outcome, by a long shot.”
In the second half, UC Davis outscored Long Beach State 48-34 and turned the ball over only twice. It was a stark difference to the first half when the 49ers held a 52-30 advantage with 20 points coming off 12 Aggie turnovers.
“Besides that little stretch, we played pretty well,” said Vince Oliver, who had 19 points. “But that stretch, it was just too deep of a hole to get out of.”
Donovan Morris scored 13 of his game-high 27 points during the 49ers’ 40-10 run. He finished 10-of-17 from the floor and 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.
Payne had his second straight double-double with team highs of 22 points and 10 rebounds. The sophomore point guard filled out his line with seven assists, two steals and two blocks.
Saturday night’s game was the first of two televised conference games for UC Davis this season. The other comes on Saturday at UC Irvine.
MICHAEL GEHLKEN can be reached at email@example.com.