2008 Big West Conference champion Cal State Fullerton?
2009 Big West winner Cal State Northridge?
The UC Davis men’s basketball team beat each of the past two league champions in back-to-back games at the Pavilion to open up Big West action.
Friday night, however, brought a different kind of test. Going down to play at UC Santa Barbara in the Thunderdome in front of over 4,000 fans on national television was something else entirely.
Consider all these different elements working against UC Davis. That’s not all, though. Mark Payne, the Big West Preseason Player of the Year, was out with a shoulder injury.
The Aggies would enter the game against the Gauchos without their star player. So you’d think if they hang in there sans Payne in a hostile environment, that would be a very good sign moving forward.
UC Davis played valiantly for the first 32 minutes of the game. The Aggies were only down 45-40 with a little under eight minutes remaining.
Unfortunately, the Gauchos used a subsequent 23-7 run to close out the win, 68-47.
“We just kind of fell apart offensively and defensively,” said junior forward Joe Harden. “We had a lapse where we handed them the game.”
“It was a lapse of concentration and focus,” said senior center Dominic Calegari. “We missed a lot of shots and made a lot of turnovers. We just lost concentration of our matchups and couldn’t defend like we had been practicing.”
While this may sound grim, the Aggies are trying not to look at this game negatively. They realize that everything they struggled with can be fixed.
“There are a number of things we can do better on both sides of the ball, whether that’s getting into the post, getting out in transition or having better rotations,” coach Gary Stewart said. “All are technical things.”
While Stewart focused on the specifics, Calegari felt the Aggies lacked in one monumental area: teamwork.
“It’s just one thing,” Calegari said. “It’s just playing as a team and mentally supporting each other. We went through adversity and it broke us apart. It’s one thing, but it’s the most important thing.”
The Aggies will now try to fix it. And Payne’s return will only help.
“Mark is a great player,” Harden said. “He would definitely have helped us out tonight.”
“Obviously, we are significantly better with Mark,” Stewart said. “If you look at stats, he’s at the top of the conference in every category.”
Still, Stewart believes you have to play the hand that you’re dealt.
That hand hasn’t been an easy one to play with. The Aggies have been limited by injuries all season. With Payne already out, junior Ryan Silva missed most of the UCSB game with an injury as well.
Also, remember it was the first Big West road game for four Aggies – Julian Welch, Ryan Howley, Jelani Floyd and Ryan Sypkens.
Despite being dealt the proverbial 2-7 off suit, the Aggies have no intention of folding. They believe they can build off this UCSB game and improve as the conference schedule gets into full gear.
“If we’re playing our game,” Calegari said, “we can beat anybody. It’s a matter of us.”
Who knows? Maybe a month from now, with Payne and Silva back and more experience under UC Davis’ belt, the result will be different against the Gauchos.
When asked if he thought the result would swing the Aggies’ way on Feb. 6 when UCSB comes to the Pavilion, Harden said, “Absolutely.”
MAX ROSENBLUM can’t believe that The Grad was going to make him pay $10 to watch a basketball game on television. If you want to know how he got in for free, ask him at firstname.lastname@example.org.