UC Davis‘ much-maligned defense came up big when it needed it most.
After a pair of Mark Payne free throws gave the Aggies a 69-68 lead against UC Irvine in the first round of the Big West Conference Tournament on Wednesday, the men’s basketball program found itself 8.2 seconds away from its first playoff win of the Division I era.
The Aggies by no means had this one locked up. They still had work to do.
They needed to hustle back on defense.
They needed to make good use of their two fouls to give.
They needed to keep the Anteaters from finding their way inside the paint.
They needed to force a contested final shot.
With one last possession spelling the difference between a second-round date with Pacific and the end of the season, the UC Davis defense rose to the occasion.
The Aggies forced UC Irvine’s Michael Hunter’s prayer from the right wing awry, handing a senior class that had given up years of postseason eligibility for a chance at Division I playoff basketball a win that was more than worth the wait.
While UC Davis‘ season came to a close a day later in the form of 67-60 loss to the Tigers, its moment in time as the clock struck zero against UC Irvine is one that will go down in program history.
As the calendar readies to turn from winter to spring, let’s take a step back and remember those moments that highlighted a loaded schedule of UC Davis athletics.
Although winter didn’t bring us the impact of a national contender (see: soccer, men’s), it gave the UC Davis faithful a breadth of quality teams to watch that goes unequaled by any other time of the year.
Here’s an abridged version of (some of) the most memorable moments of the winter that was:
They did what?
The UC Davis wrestling team gave us a preview of winter things to come as fall quarter came to a close.
With senior Dustin Noack and sophomore Ricky Alcala leading the way with a pair of major decisions, the Aggies earned a 23-15 upset victory over No. 10 Northwestern at the Pavilion on Nov. 23.
It was the program’s first-ever win against a top-10 team.
“It’s a big win for our program,” said coach Lennie Zalesky. “Hopefully this shows that a California team can build an extremely competitive program and contend with these top-10 ranked teams.“
The Aggies earned a fourth-place finish against a competitive Pacific-10 Conference Championship field on Mar. 2.
Alcala, senior Marcos Orozco and sophomore Brandon Low earned berths to the NCAA Division I Championships, which begin Thursday in St. Louis, Mo.
Beyond the scoreboard
Saying the odds were stacked against the UC Davis women’s basketball team when it hosted UC Riverside on Feb. 7 would be an understatement.
The Highlanders entered play with eight wins in nine Big West chances, the lone loss coming against undefeated UC Santa Barbara.
The Aggies, meanwhile, had seven players in uniform. Seven. Six freshmen.
While UC Riverside picked up the win, UC Davis left the Pavilion with its heads held high. The Aggies limited the Highlanders to 25.9 percent shooting, forcing overtime before UC Riverside could eek out a 47-44 win.
“It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get the win, but it almost felt as good,” said freshman Hana Asano. “One of the nice things about this season is we’ve faced adversity – a lot of it – from the very beginning.
“We’ve fought through things. We never let down. … We have so much Aggie pride, even as freshmen, that it almost hurts.“
UC Davis‘ season came to a close with a 64-56 loss to Cal State Northridge in the first round of the Big West Tournament.
There’s consistency and then there’s…
Time and time again, gymnastics coach John Lavallee stressed the importance of improving on a week-to-week basis.
Time and time again, the Aggies did just that. Over and over.
The UC Davis gymnastics team set nine season-highs in a 10-meet period from Jan. 10 to Mar. 8, advancing its score from a season-opening 190.250 to a 192.925 on Senior Night.
The UC Davis men’s swimming team fell to defending champion UC Santa Barbara by just 15 points at the Big West Championships (Feb. 25-28). Too bad it should have won by 17.
The Aggies were stripped of a 32-point medley relay win when an officiating error spelled disqualification for UC Davis.
Junior Scott Weltz allegedly left the take-off pads early during the relay. The pads, monitored by Colorado Time Systems, registered Weltz with a legal release time, but a pair of judges overruled the technology in concluding he left early.
Seeing as we’re talking about roughly one-tenth of a second here, it’s pretty hard (impossible, really) to imagine anyone could process Weltz’s release faster than technology that was developed to examine take-off times.
UC Davis may have had its title stolen, but the season continues for its top performers.
Junior Heidi Kucera became the first Aggie to post an A-cut time to qualify for the NCAA Women’s Championships, which take place Thursday through Saturday.
Both Weltz and the 800 free relay team could be selected for the NCAA Men’s Championships, which begin Mar. 26. Both championships will be held in College Station, Tex.
Making them count
The UC Davis baseball team won just two of its first 13 games. It made those wins count, though.
Thanks to a pair of game-winning hits courtesy of senior Grant Hirneise, a young Aggies team picked up impressive wins over No. 12 UCLA (Feb. 22) and No. 11 Pepperdine (Feb. 28).
“As a fifth-year senior, you look forward to those opportunities, and you’ve got to make the best of them,” Hirneise said. “[I’ve] been coming up big lately, and hopefully that turns this team around in the right direction.“
UC Davis travels to San Francisco to face the Dons on Mar. 24. It then hosts No. 7 Stanford on Mar. 25 before heading to Pacific to open its Big West season (Mar. 27-29).
ADAM LOBERSTEIN wants you to know we’re not done with winter sports just yet. The Aggie will hand out its Athlete of the Quarter awards once NCAA Championship season comes to a close. Feel like making nominations? Loberstein can be reached at email@example.com.