After losing five in a row and suffering even more injuries during the past two weeks, things weren’t looking too good for the UC Davis women’s basketball team.
The players obviously didn’t get that message.
The Aggies took both games in this weekend’s road trip, turning in two stellar defensive efforts, first against UC Irvine and then at Cal State Fullerton.
Thursday – UC Davis 56, UC Irvine 24
The Aggies‘ defense handed the Anteaters a first-half performance they’d rather forget.
UC Davis held UC Irvine to a meager seven points in the opening session on 10.3 percent shooting, giving the Aggies all the breathing room they’d need to post a dominating 56-24 win.
“We played well defensively,” coach Sandy Simpson said. “We were focused on their players that could hurt us and we contested their shots.“
The Aggies entered the break with a 26-7 lead and never took their foot off the gas, as they finished off the Anteaters in commanding fashion – something that the players and coaches had been talking about for the past few weeks.
“When you are up 18 or 20 points and give up seven in the first half it is easy to relax,” said Simpson. “We have talked a lot about making choices. When you are up, you have the choice of just getting to the end of the game and letting up a little, or you can say, ‘Let’s extend this to 25. Let’s continue to play hard.‘ It takes a lot of resolve.“
In her first game back after suffering a concussion in practice, sophomore Paige Mintun led all scorers with 14 points. She also grabbed six rebounds in 29 minutes.
Saturday – UC Davis 60, Cal State Fullerton 47
UC Davis looked to take some momentum from its performance against UC Irvine into its matchup with Cal State Fullerton.
The Aggies did exactly that, putting up a near-repeat performance defensively as two nights before to defeat the Titans 60-47.
“We had another strong first half defensively,” said Simpson. “We are mixing things up.“
The Aggies‘ defense held the Titans to 16 points on 23.3 percent shooting from the field in the first half.
“We were talking about contesting shots and making them adjust to what we were doing,” said Simpson. “That makes three pretty good defensive first-halves in a row going back to the Riverside game.“
While UC Davis hasn’t had any problem playing exceptional basketball in the first period of play lately, it has had issues with maintaining its play in the second half.
That wasn’t the case this weekend. The Aggies took a 26-16 advantage into halftime and never stopped pushing the Titans on their way to a second consecutive victory.
Freshman Hana Asano had a team-high 11 points while playing a game-high 37 minutes.
“Asano stepped up tonight and did a terrific job against their pressure,” said Simpson of his young point guard.
Part of the Aggies defensive effort included holding Titans‘ leading scorer senior Toni Thomas to only four points on 0-for-8 shooting.
“It is hard to pinpoint one individual who played well on defense,” said Simpson. “It was a team effort.“
With this performance, the Aggies have revitalized themselves, moving to 5-7 Big West Conference play and into a tie for fifth place in the face of adversity and non-believers.
“There may be a lot of people outside of the program that think that we should look to next year,” said Simpson. “We were losing close games. We only needed to do a couple of more things each game to win.
“I don’t have to motivate this team or keep [the players] from getting down on themselves. I couldn’t be more proud.“
MAX ROSENBLUM can be reached at email@example.com.