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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Column: December to remember

Your month of December probably consisted of a week of finals and sitting around your house watching rental movies while eating cheesecake. (Well, at least that’s what mine looked like.)

It was quite the opposite for the women’s basketball team, who put in work and ended the month with a 5-2 record heading into Big West Conference play, which is an entirely different season according to coach Sandy Simpson.

“You know [your opponents] better and they know you better,” Simpson said. “[There’s] just a heightened sense of importance with each game.”

UC Davis began the month with a 71-59 road win against St. Mary’s on Dec. 1. The Aggies used a 19-2 run at the end of the first half and beginning of the second to put away the Gaels.

Two days later, three Aggies scored in double figures in a 74-56 victory at Santa Clara. On Dec. 5, UC Davis defeated Denver at the Pavilion by a score of 64-57.

After a week of exams, the Aggies continued their winning ways by beating rival Sacramento State before traveling to New Haven, Conn. to dispatch Yale by a 60-55 margin.

Despite finishing out the month with losses to two teams from power conferences – Seton Hall (Big East) and Kansas State (Big-12) – the Aggies still look good heading into league action.

“The thing I really like about this team is that we’ve learned from every game and every situation we’ve been in,” Simpson said. “I think you’re going to see a team that will grow as conference progresses.”

Senior guard Haylee Donaghe would agree with her coach’s assessment.

“Conference is what we’ve been working toward all preseason,” Donaghe said. “We had a good preseason. We had some games we would’ve liked to pull out. Overall, the team has done such a great job preparing for conference.”

There is no doubt the Aggies have put in their time to prepare for the proverbial “second season.” However, they will need to get junior Paige Mintun back to full strength. Once she does, Simpson says he likes his team’s chances.

Mintun isn’t the only player UC Davis relies on. The Aggies have received stellar play from some of their lesser-known stars over the past 30 days. Most notably sophomore point guard Hana Asano, whose performance and ball-handling skills led the Aggies in December.

“Her job is to get us into a flow offensively, to help key us defensively and to take care of the basketball,” Simpson said. “She makes good decisions in transitions – when to push it and when to pull it back and run offense. It’s nice when you don’t have to watch your point guard every moment on the floor and give her verbal directions.”

Simpson’s praises may be an understatement. Asano, who is the sole handler of the ball when she is in, is second on the team in minutes played (28 per game) and has committed only 21 turnovers in 12 games prior to the New Year – that’s less than two per contest.

While she doesn’t score a whole lot, she has an almost 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and is tied for the team lead with 26 steals.

“For a sophomore, she has as singular sense of what her role is,” Simpson said. “Any scoring from her is icing on the cake.”

“I can’t say enough about how good of a job she’s done this season,” Donaghe said. “I think she’ll keep improving and keep getting better. Everybody loves a good point guard. They’re going to give you the ball and you’re going to score. It’s great to have Hana there running everything and getting us into our offense.”

Asano is more modest about her play at the point.

“I know a lot of people have been talking about my assist-to-turnover ratio, but a lot of it is my teammates,” Asano said. “If they didn’t knock down the shot, I wouldn’t be able to have an assist. Our team shoots very well and everybody knows their roll. I’ve just been doing my job by getting them the ball and they’re finishing.”

Asano and the rest of her teammates will need to continue doing their jobs. They know they still have a lot of work to do heading into league play.

“It’s going to get really personal in conference,” Asano said. “We’ve waited a long time.”

MAX ROSENBLUM did more than watch movies and eat cheesecake. He covered UC Davis sports, too. He can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.

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