Vince Oliver called it very, very important.
Mark Payne said whoever finds it will win the Big West Conference.
Phrase it however you like, the message remains the same: stability is the key, and finding it before the Big West Tournament could mean the difference between earning a berth to the NCAA Tournament and watching March Madness from home.
“We need to build a little momentum,” Oliver said. “We’ve just got to be mentally ready to play. We need to play smarter basketball.“
For UC Davis, hopefully smarter basketball means more consistent basketball.
The Aggies had traded wins and losses in seven consecutive Big West contests prior to Saturday’s 66-64 defeat at UC Santa Barbara, which came on the heels of a 72-57 loss to Pacific on Wednesday.
“Right now, anybody can beat anybody on any given night,” Payne said. “Each game could potentially mean two, three seeds in the conference tournament. Every game is real, real big.“
The importance of seeding in the eight-team Big West Tournament is something that can’t be understated.
The conference’s top two teams receive a pair of byes in the four-round tournament, advancing automatically to the semifinals. The No. 3 and 4 seeds each get one bye, assuring quarterfinal positioning.
UC Davis‘ recent road losses lower its record to 7-8 in league play, dropping it from third place and a look at a first-round bye into a three-way tie for fifth.
The Aggies have one more chance to jockey for tournament seeding, as they’ll host Cal State Northridge (13-12, 9-4) on Thursday at 7 p.m. to close out the regular season.
They’d be well served to use their contest with the Matadors as a chance to work on making in-game adjustments, which has been an issue for UC Davis as of late.
Take Wednesday’s contest against Pacific as an example. The Aggies held the host Tigers‘ offense in check in the first half, limiting them to a pedestrian 36.7 percent field goal rate.
Things made a change for the worst in the second session.
Pacific took the intermission as a chance to tweak its game plan on the offensive end. The adjustments worked, as the Tigers were lights out from the floor in the second, hitting 68.4 percent of their attempts after the break.
Meanwhile, UC Davis was having offensive struggles of its own in the opening session, but couldn’t turn things around like Pacific did, finishing the game at a 36.8 percent field goal clip.
“They ran a 1-2-2, three-quarters-court zone that’s meant to slow us down,” Payne said. “Our whole game plan was just to try to run by it.“
The Tigers knew that’s what the Aggies – arguably the best fast-break team in the conference – would try to do. Pacific took that aspect of UC Davis‘ game away, preventing the Aggies from netting a single fast-break bucket.
“We talked about how we wanted to counter [their defense], it just wasn’t working,” Oliver said of making in-game adjustments. “We wanted to get the ball inside, but they really packed it in and forced us to shoot. Because we weren’t making shots, they were then able to keep packing it in.“
“They wanted to penetrate, they wanted to put the ball on the floor – they tried that a lot,” said Pacific coach Bob Thomason. “I thought we did a good job jamming them early. By the time they were running their zone offense, they didn’t have as much time as normal.“
UC Davis needed to adjust. Pacific needed to adjust. Both were adjusting to the way the other adjusted as the game progressed.
So why was it that Pacific’s adjustments always put the Tigers one step ahead of the Aggies?
“Those are great secrets that we’re going to keep,” Thomason said with a smile.
In-game adjustments. If the Aggies can’t make them, they’ll have a hard time winning a Big West title.
If they can – which they have the ability to do – it could spell March Madness for UC Davis.
ADAM LOBERSTEIN will be at the Pavilion on Thursday to bid farewell to Oliver and the rest of a senior class that sacrificed years of postseason eligibility to turn UC Davis into a Division I institution. You should, too. He can be reached at email@example.com.