After playing through most of December without enough players for a full practice, UC Davis finally got to play a game with most of its squad healthy.
This was much to the chagrin of UC Irvine.
The Aggies beat the Anteaters 79-77 Thursday night, giving the Aggies four consecutive victories over the Anteaters dating back to last season. UC Davis’ ability to put fresh bodies on the floor in the second half was a change from recent games and had a profound impact on Thursday’s contest.
“The injuries have been a challenge to continuity,” said coach Gary Stewart. “You go through such a long stretch of not playing five on five [in practice], it’s going to have an effect.”
Nine Aggies saw action against the Anteaters and none of them played fewer than 13 minutes. Every starter played for over 20 minutes while still managing to get needed rest throughout the game.
“Running up and down the floor for 38 minutes takes a toll,” said center Dominic Calegari. “[Having substitutes] makes a lot of difference.”
Calegari, who played 35 and 38 minutes during each game of the Aggies’ previous road trip, was only needed for 29 minutes against the Anteaters.
This, along with having so many players injured early in the season, turned out to be positive for the Aggies.
“All those injuries were a blessing in disguise because a lot of guys got experience during that time,” said guard Mark Payne, who made his return Thursday night after missing three games with a shoulder injury.
The Aggies took that experience on the floor with them against the Anteaters. After going into halftime with just a two-point lead thanks to a Payne jumper at the buzzer, the Aggies started the second half with a 17-6 run and extending the lead to 13 points.
The Anteaters would not go away quietly. A layup by guard Michael Hunter with 6:46 left in the game accounted for one of the game’s 17 lead changes and put the Anteaters ahead by a score of 65-64. UC Irvine would stretch the advantage to 70-68 before a 7-0 run by the Aggies iced the game.
“Tonight was a terrific college game,” Stewart said. “The excitement is that I don’t think we’re close to touching the tip of the iceberg. We’ve got a lot of upside.”
Until the upside is realized, having Calegari will do the Aggies just fine. Playing in his 100th game as an Aggie, the senior tied a career-high by scoring 28 points on perfect 10-for-10 shooting. These numbers put Calegari over the 1,000-point mark for his career.
“My vocabulary is not extensive enough to describe what I saw out there tonight,” Stewart said. “It’s one of the finest performances I’ve seen from a kid wearing our uniform.”
Payne finished with 23 points and went 14-for-16 from the charity stripe while Joe Harden, who was forced to leave the game in the first half with a cut above his eye, scored 10 points.
The win gives the Aggies a 7-10 record overall and a 3-2 record in Big West Conference play. Their next game is on Jan. 23 at Pacific.
RICHARD PROCTER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.