UC Davis coach Gary Stewart missed the first game of his 17-year coaching career with flu-like symptoms.
Unfortunately for UC Santa Cruz, the rest of the Aggies showed up as scheduled.
In a game in which the Aggies never trailed, they beat the Banana Slugs 88-59 Wednesday to improve to 2-2 on the season.
Mark Payne led the Aggies with 18 points while Joe Harden and Dominic Caligari each had 16 points. Julian Welch added 15 points.
Not only did the Aggies dominate offensively but they imposed their will on the defensive side of the ball.
UC Davis held the UC Santa Cruz to 34 percent shooting, held plus 18 rebounding margin and forced 23 turnovers.
“That’s been a work in progress,” said assistant coach Kevin Nosek, who filled in for Stewart. “The team has made significant strides since opening night. Tonight you saw glimpses of how dominant that defense can be.”
Payne led the way in all facets of the game for the Aggies, recording a career-high eight steals.
“We do that zone and that allows me to take some chances,” Payne said. “I’ve got pretty long arms and little guards have trouble passing over me.”
Ahead of the Slugs 18-14 with 9:31 left in the first half, the Aggies used the turnovers created by their defense to fuel a 14-0 run, making the score 32-14.
UC Santa Cruz came right back with a 12-0 run of its own but UC Davis was able to close the half with five straight points from Caligari for a 38-29 halftime advantage.
The Aggies opened the second period of play on a 17-4 run, with seven more points from Caligari.
Another 14-0 run by the Aggies later in the half allowed them to put the game away.
Caligari led the team with eight rebounds while the bench contributed a season-high 34 points.
After shooting 1-for-6 in the first half, Payne made all six of his shot attempts in the second, including two from beyond the arch – as many three-pointers as he made all of last season.
“I think everybody was pleasantly surprised to see Mark pull the trigger,” Nosek said. “We’ve seen him shoot the ball at a very high percentage for weeks upon weeks now in practice. Mark has spent a great deal of time working on his shot and he deserves tremendous credit for being so diligent and changing his shot.”
With four three-pointers through four games this season, Payne has already doubled last season’s production and has been encouraged to add to that total.
“I just tried not to get discouraged and to just keep shooting,” Payne said. “Everyone was telling me to just keep shooting.”
The Aggies take the floor again Tuesday when they host North Dakota State, a 2009 NCAA Tournament team. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at the Pavilion.
RICHARD PROCTER can be reached at email@example.com.