The fact of the matter is simple for the Aggies: They will go the remainder of the season with a very short bench, as three players have gone down with season-ending injuries.
That won’t keep the Aggies (7-11, 3-4) from giving it all they have.
“We have accepted that fact,” said head coach Sandy Simpson. “We are going to have eight or nine players for the rest of the season.”
With its shortened roster, UC Davis headed south to take on two Central Coast opponents in first-place UC Santa Barbara (12-6, 7-0) and then Cal Poly (11-7, 4-3).
Thursday – UCSB 64, UC Davis 51
UCSB is undefeated in Big West Conference play, and it isn’t too difficult to see why.
UC Davis entered the Thunderdome on Thursday night on the heels of a 68-56 home win over UC Irvine.
The Gauchos quickly made the Aggies forget about their romp of the Anteaters, as UCSB took a lead midway through the first half that it wouldn’t relinquish en route to a 64-51 win.
“It was 10-10 after Cortney French hit a three for us,” Simpson said. “Then they went on a 19-2 run.”
With that run UCSB rolled to an 11-point lead at the break.
UC Davis came back to cut the lead to eight with 3:34 left in the contest, but the clutch play of the Gauchos down the stretch sealed the victory.
UCSB went 9-for-10 from the free throw line in the final minutes.
“Their seniors Lauren Pedersen and Jenna Green are tough,” Simpson said. “They made great plays and controlled the tempo of the game.”
Pedersen scored a game-high 15 points for the Gauchos. She added six rebounds and had three steals.
Green hit three of the Gauchos’ final free throws for her only points of the contest.
The Gauchos shot well from the floor, converting at a 46 percent clip. The Aggies, however, weren’t as fortunate, as they shot just 35 percent from the field.
“We couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean despite the ocean being right there,” Simpson said.
The shooting struggles carried over to the charity stripe, where the Aggies went 9-for-16.
Freshman Lauren Juric went 6-for-8 from the floor to tie with Pedersen for a game-high 15 points. Sophomore post Paige Mintun was a bucket away from a double-double, as she scored eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Saturday – Cal Poly 64, UC Davis 60
The Aggies did everything they needed to do to beat the Mustangs, except hold them off in the final minutes.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Simpson said. “In the first half of each half we scored 42 points. In the second half of each half we only scored 18 points.”
UC Davis’ solid play in the first half of the second period allowed the Aggies to gain a 50-40 advantage with 11:42 remaining after a Samantha Meggison layup.
But the Aggies were only able to score one basket in the next six minutes of play, allowing the Mustangs to go on a 14-4 run to tie the game with 5:20 left.
UC Davis had a chance to regain its lead late, but Juric, who went 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, had her only miss with less than a minute left, allowing Cal Poly to get the narrow-margin victory.
“We were down by two,” Simpson said. “[Juric] was shooting well but missed. I will take that shot any day.”
For the game, the Mustangs moved the ball well, getting 25 assists on their 26 field goals. Cal Poly also created extra chances for itself, as the Mustangs outplayed the Aggies on the boards, 38-29.
“They stepped up and worked hard on the offensive boards to create extra opportunities,” Simpson said.
Mintun led all scorers with 22 points and also had a game-high eight rebounds for UC Davis.
Juric finished with 12 points and freshman Hana Asano chipped in with nine points and four assists with no turnovers in 29 minutes of play.
“Paige was brilliant tonight,” Simpson said. “She had a great game. Lauren Juric stepped up. Hana Asano did a nice job off the bench, too.”
Even with two losses this weekend, Simpson sees positives with his team as it heads into its last game before the midway point of the Big West season.
“I haven’t seen us fly around the court defensively in the last seven or eight games,” Simpson said. “They were having fun out there.”
As the season heads on, Simpson views these last two games as something the Aggies can build on.
“We were so much more aggressive and had so much more fire,” Simpson said. “We can build this good performance heading into the second half of league. We need to maintain our style of play and control tempo for 34 to 35 minutes. If we do that, we will be pretty successful.
“We also need to make some adjustments mentally in our approach. We need to break through that psychological barrier. [The players] are committed to doing it. They are not discouraged.”
MAX ROSENBLUM can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.