Nine days are all that separate the UC Davis men’s basketball team from the Big West Conference Tournament.
For the Aggies to carry momentum into the postseason, they’ll have to take advantage of every one of them.
UC Davis (7-8, 12-17) will look to end its regular season on a positive note before heading to Anaheim when it hosts Cal State Northridge (14-12, 10-4) this Thursday at 7 p.m.
It will be the final home game of seniors Vince Oliver, Kyle Brucculeri, David Carter, Michael Boone and Nathan Clark’s careers.
“It will be a big night to say goodbye to some people that have been so significant to our program and through the transition years,” said coach Gary Stewart. “It will obviously be an emotional time.“
Wednesday – Pacific 72, UC Davis 57
The Aggies tried all night to run against the Tigers.
By the next morning, point guard Mark Payne could hardly walk.
The sophomore suffered a sprained ankle in the first half against his hometown team, and Pacific used its zone defense to take away UC Davis‘ fast break and pack the paint in a 72-57 loss at the Alex G. Spanos Center.
“They ran a 1-2-2 three-quarter zone that is meant to slow us down,” said Payne, who played 34 minutes and led the team with seven assists and six rebounds despite the injury. “Our whole game plan was to run by it. … You got to give them credit. They did exactly what they wanted to do.“
The usually up-tempo Aggies were held scoreless on the fast break. The Tigers also dropped back their 1-2-2 zone to pack the paint, limiting access to the interior.
Seventeen of UC Davis‘ 26 shots in the first half were three-pointers, and the team did not get to the free throw line until the 9:41 mark in the second half.
Pacific coach Bob Thomason said his team’s defensive success against UC Davis was no easy feat.
“I don’t want to play those guys again,” Thomason said. “They’ve got so much offensive firepower.“
The Aggies went 8-of-28 from beyond the arc for the night.
They are 4-15 this season when they attempt 20 or more three-pointers in a game and 8-2 when they attempt 19 or fewer.
“We settled for too many perimeter shots without putting the ball into the interior, either by the pass or the dribble,” said coach Gary Stewart. “When you play as a windshield wiper team on the road, [the game becomes] really, really challenging.“
Pacific’s Chad Troyer hit five of nine three-point attempts to lead all scorers with 19 points. Joe Harden paced UC Davis with 14.
The two teams entered the game in a tie for third place in the Big West, but the loss dropped UC Davis to a tie for fifth.
Saturday – UC Santa Barbara 66, UC Davis 64
Todd Lowenthal covered his face with his hand and winced in pain.
With 2:26 remaining in the first half, the sophomore point guard was forced to leave the game after being poked in the eye.
Already without Mark Payne, the loss of their primary reserve ballhandler proved to be too much for the Aggies to overcome.
UC Davis committed 17 of its season-high 22 turnovers after Lowenthal’s injury, and UCSB would need every one of those extra possessions to escape with a 66-64 win at the Thunderdome.
“We got into a situation with our personnel where we had to play certain people out of their natural positions,” Stewart said of the aftermath of Lowenthal’s eye injury. “As for the [injury’s] severity, we’re not sure yet.“
Harden and Vince Oliver shouldered the majority of the scoring load with 20 and 19 points, respectively. Harden pulled out a game-high nine rebounds, and Oliver led the team with four assists.
For the Gauchos, freshman James Nunnally scored 18 points off the bench, and freshman Jaime Serna added 14. Senior Chris Devine, the two-time defending Big West Player of the Week, was held to 11 points and 4-of-11 shooting.
UCSB has won five of its last six games, and UC Davis has lost three straight.
“I think we’re fine,” Stewart said. “We’re minus some guys. You take Mark and Todd away from us, and that’s significant. We’ll get those guys healthy, get them back, and I still like our team. I still like our chances.“
MICHAEL GEHLKEN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.