Now, every game matters.
Each contest leading up to this point in the season has been mere preparation for the Big West Conference play that began on Saturday. The Aggies are unique in that they carry each game with them, win or lose.
“The thing I really like about this team is that we’ve learned from every game and every situation we’ve been in,” said coach Sandy Simpson. “I think you’re going to see a team that will grow as conference progresses.”
Each game up until now has provided a unique learning experience for this young team as they prepare for the journey that is conference play.
Dec. 3 – UC Davis 74, Santa Clara 56
The Aggies looked to enter finals week with positive momentum as they traveled to take on Santa Clara.
They responded by dominating the Broncos in all facets of the game.
“We knew they played zone [defense] and we don’t normally play against the zone,” said junior forward Paige Mintun. “We know that there can be a lot of loopholes in zone so we were crashing hard.”
Point guard Hana Asano drained a three-point basket during the first minute of play and the Aggies never looked back, taking a 22-point lead into the half. UC Davis would go on to lead by as many as 29 points with 16 minutes left in the contest, eventually holding on to win 74-56.
Kasey Riecks led the way with 15 points and two other Aggies – Heidi Heintz and Samantha Meggison – scored in double figures.
The Aggies also out-rebounded the Broncos by a 42-33 margin.
Dec. 5 – UC Davis 64, Denver 57
With positive momentum on their side, the Aggies came home to face the Pioneers in their last contest before finals.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, the Pioneers would not go down without a fight.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” Simpson said. “I don’t know if it’s a product of finals or that we’ve played three games this week and we’re tired mentally and physically. But it’s really nice to see that this team had the wherewithal to find a way to win.”
Thanks to some unusual events, forward Kasey Riecks was the story of this contest.
With 11:55 left to play in the second half, the Aggies were trailing by one point when there was a wacky turn of events. The official scorer, whose job it is to record every event on the court, failed to record Riecks’ layup at the 12:30 mark. As a result, the Pioneers’ lead was extended to three and Riecks had two points taken away.
“Lots of times those mistakes are correctable,” Simpson said. “It’s unfortunate but the rules state that the official book is the last word.”
Despite the unusual circumstances, Riecks did not lose her focus.
With 37 seconds left in the game and her team up by only one point, Riecks drained a three-pointer to put the Pioneers away for good.
“It was nerve-racking,” Riecks said. “But the minute it left my hand I was pretty sure it was going in”.
Dec. 13 – UC Davis 72, Sacramento State 64
Life for the Aggies didn’t get any easier after finals.
With 10 points in the Causeway Cup on the line, UC Davis hosted rival Sacramento State without the services of preseason all-conference forward Mintun.
“It’s not about replacing Paige because she’s irreplaceable,” Simpson said. “It’s just about finding new ways to win. With the depth we have, we’re certainly capable of doing that.”
Mintun, who would be sidelined with a foot injury, watched as her team went on to squeak out the win.
The Aggies would lead by as many as 16 in the second half but the Hornets would not go down quietly.
With 2:42 left in the contest, Sacramento State went on a 10-0 run to cut the Aggie lead to four.
The Aggies were able to hold off the Hornets in the waning moments thanks to clutch free-throw shooting.
Dec. 19 – UC Davis 60, Yale 55
When UC Davis arrived at Yale, it was met with blizzard-like weather and a team of Bulldogs looking to tear up the court.
When the Aggies left, they took with them a five-game winning streak, their longest such stretch in two years.
“We played really well,” Simpson said. “We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket. If we just had an average game we would have won easily.”
Despite their lackluster shooting performance – 40 percent from the floor – UC Davis would pull out the win against Yale thanks to clutch team defense and free-throw shooting from guard Haylee Donaghe.
Donaghe, who drained two consecutive shots from the charity stripe with four seconds remaining, stifled any hope the Bulldogs had of mounting a comeback.
Dec. 21 – Seton Hall 58, UC Davis 54
The Aggies rode into South Orange, N.J. four days before Christmas.
Unfortunately, the Aggies would have to wait to celebrate as the Pirates turned a three-point deficit into a four-point victory in the final four minutes.
“We had a lead late and we just struggled to score,” Simpson said. “Those games get away from you in the preseason and they’re hard but you learn from them.”
The Aggies led by nine with less than six minutes left but would commit seven turnovers in the final five minutes to open the door for the Pirates’ victory.
Asano wrapped up her east coast ball-handling clinic as she recorded seven assists and only one turnover in a team-high 67 minutes of play during the road trip.
Tuesday – Kansas State 73, UC Davis 59
The Aggies returned to the Pavilion to take on their toughest opponent since No. 2 Stanford came to town in November.
Still without the aid of star forward Paige Mintun, the results didn’t improve by much as the Aggies fell 73-59 to the Wildcats.
“We gave them a lot of second chances.” Asano said. “We contested a lot of their threes but they’d get an offensive board so we’d have to guard them again. That’s something we have to keep working on as the season goes. “
The Wildcats, who shot 13-for-25 from beyond the arc, would relinquish the lead just once when the Aggies took a one-point advantage with 14:12 left in the first half.
Sophomore Courtney French led the Aggies with 15 points, all on three-pointers.
Saturday – Cal State Fullerton 68, UC Davis 57
All 12 games have led up to this.
On Saturday, the Aggies began what will be an arduous conference schedule that will ultimately decide where they stack up in the post-season tournament.
“We play in a conference where anybody can get you,” Simpson said. “It’s a long conference season and while you don’t like to take a loss, especially this early, the conference season is a marathon.”
The Aggies, who were chosen by the media to finish second in the Big West, were fortunate enough to get Mintun back on the floor.
Unfortunately the result was a bit rusty, as Mintun turned the ball over six times despite scoring 11 points and grabbing six boards.
As a team, UC Davis committed 20 turnovers.
Despite the uncharacteristic miscues, the Aggies believe that the loss will be a learning experience.
“We just missed a lot of shots that we normally make,” Simpson said. “They were more aggressive this time but we’re a team that learns quickly. This game will help us be more determined in the future”
The conference schedule continues for UC Davis tonight as it travels to take on Cal State Northridge. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
MARK LING can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.