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Davis, California

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Column: Tough road ahead

UC Davis women’s basketball coach Sandy Simpson emphasizes two things: 1) winning at home, and 2) holding service on the road.

By beating UC Riverside 54-50 on Thursday at the Pavilion, UC Davis maintained its top spot in the Big West Conference standings with a 6-1 overall record and 3-0 mark at home.

“We’ve done what we’re supposed to do and that is win at home,” Simpson said.

Now the Aggies have to abide by the second part of Simpson’s mantra.

It will not be an easy task. UC Davis enters what could be one of the toughest stretches of games this season – a three-game road swing beginning at second-place Cal Poly.

“You win this league on the road,” said Simpson. “We have a chance to do it now. We don’t have to make up for a home loss by winning on the road. We just have to pick off a couple of those games on the road. If we do, we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”

After the battle with the Mustangs, the Aggies will travel to play defending Big West champion UC Santa Barbara.

That doesn’t bother the Aggies, though.

“This group of girls isn’t fazed by that,” said sophomore Kasey Riecks. “I feel like we’re a strong unit with each other and we bring a lot of energy with us.”

Junior Paige Mintun says it in a much simpler manner, calling the Aggies “road warriors.”

That moniker will be tested. The Aggies not only have to deal with these teams away from the Pavilion, but they also have to take the best shot each opponent has to offer.

“Every game now is so exciting,” Mintun said. “We’re number one in the Big West so we’ve got this target on our back. Everyone is going to have a little extra oomph when they play us.”

The Aggies will look to counteract their opponents’ efforts by doing what they’ve been doing all year – staying close as a team and calm toward the end of games.

“We’re such a tight knit team that it doesn’t matter what gym we play in,” Mintun said. “As long as I have my girls next to me, it feels at home. We huddle together as much as we can. It calms you down. When we play calm is when we play best.”

For Simpson, togetherness is key. However, he emphasizes calmness down the stretch.

“When we’re in games late,” Simpson said, “we’re really calm in the timeout huddles. Some teams are hoping things are going to end up okay. This team expects it. Down the stretch you really have to believe you can win.”

Belief in their own abilities may carry the Aggies the rest of the way, as momentum will likely switch back to the home team during these next two contests.

“Conventional wisdom says the edge goes back to the home team in the rematch,” Simpson said. “We will step on the court ready to play. In this league, you can go from a five-game winning streak to a four-game losing streak. Anybody can get you. We have to be ready next week.”

Despite these challenges, UC Davis has proven itself to be worthy of its top spot in the conference. They’ve dispatched second-place Cal Poly and third-place UC Riverside as well as UCSB at home.

The Aggies have also shown they can win almost any style of game – whether it’s a blowout (UC Irvine), an overtime thriller (Pacific) or a game with 65 combined turnovers (also Pacific).

“[It’s good] knowing we don’t have to be on a total roll to win,” Simpson said. “We’re playing well in some and so-so in others and are still finding a way to win. If we play well, we’re probably going to win.”

For the Aggies, playing at a high level and dictating the game is still the main concern.

“You play to your own standards,” Simpson said. “You don’t allow your opponent to dictate how you play. You develop certain habits and you practice those habits game in and game out.

“Regardless of your competition, you do what you’re supposed to do. If you do and you’re good enough, you’re going to win most games.”

MAX ROSENBLUM is looking at the Aggies’ remaining schedule. Their final two games are at home. If a No. 1 seed is on the line, be prepared for a Thrilla in the Pavila – and a campout. Contact him at sports@theaggie.org.


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