When forward Paige Mintun made the play of the game with 22 seconds left in regulation, the Aggies effectively clinched their seventh straight win.
But Mintun’s heroics, which led to a 54-50 UC Davis victory over visiting UC Riverside, were preceded by 39 minutes of hard-fought basketball.
“Tonight, we didn’t force many turnovers and didn’t rebound particularly well,” said coach Sandy Simpson. “I didn’t think we were great defensively. Fortunately, they shot even more poorly than we did.”
The Highlanders, who wouldn’t earn a single free-throw attempt, controlled the game at the outset. They took a seven-point lead with 11:32 left in the first period.
“We were down by seven and they had all the momentum,” Simpson said. “We didn’t play terribly, but in the first 10 minutes we weren’t stopping them. They were controlling the tempo and we were back on our heels.”
The teams would continue to exchange field goals as the Highlanders drained a three-pointer with 3:54 left in the first half to push the lead back to seven.
The Aggies then came to life.
Despite being outplayed for much of the first period, the Aggies went on a 10-2 run to close the half with a 28-27 lead.
“They were shredding us in the first half,” Simpson said. “I would have been pleased to be within a possession at the half. … We weren’t very good in the first half, but we were pretty good in the second.”
Despite the improved play from the Aggies in the second session, the back and forth nature of the game continued as the Highlanders regained the lead with 16:29 remaining.
The lead would change hands four times in the second half before the Aggies took the lead for the final time with 9:47 to play.
The outcome may have been different if not for Mintun and her clutch defensive play.
UC Riverside, down three with 30 seconds left in regulation, had the ball and a chance to tie the game.
“No matter what, we didn’t want a three-point shot,” Mintun said. “Our strategy was to not foul inside because if they get two points, we’re still up by one.”
While a three-point basket would have tied the game, Highlander guard Alyssa Morris charged and attempted to pass the ball inside to get a quick two points.
Mintun responded with the steal that effectively ended the game.
“There was a shooter right on the outside of me so I wanted to stunt the pass,” Mintun said. “I saw her eyes get big. I was like, ‘I think she’s going to throw it.’ I just reached my arm out and luckily I got a tip on it.”
The steal would lead to a converted Heidi Heintz free-throw attempt to get things to the eventual 54-50 final margin.
“We know that when we win, it’s going to be a team effort,” Mintun said. “Our team stuck together.”
MARK LING can be reached at email@example.com.