In their final road trip of the season, the Aggies had a chance to clinch at least a tie for the Big West Conference regular season championship.
Unfortunately for UC Davis (18-9, 10-4), UC Riverside (14-14, 11-4) had other plans.
The road trip got off to a good start for the Aggies when they defeated Long Beach State by a score of 70-46.
The door was open for the Aggies to take control of the conference standings as then first-place Cal Poly lost back-to-back contests. All UC Davis had to do was defeat UC Riverside and they would have been sitting pretty.
Instead, the Highlanders turned up the heat and beat the Aggies 57-53.
The good news is that UC Davis still controls its fate, as winning its final two games would clinch a tie for first heading into the Big West tournament.
Thursday – UC Davis 70, Long Beach State 46
Just a week after handily defeating the 49ers by a score of 80-68 at home, the Aggies traveled to Long Beach, Calif. in an attempt to repeat.
They did that, and more.
UC Davis opened the game with a 14-0 run in the first 3:12 and never looked back as they cruised to a 24-point victory over the 49ers.
“This was basically a copy of the first game against Long Beach,” said coach Sandy Simpson. “We played very well defensively and kept extending our lead to maintain a healthy margin. The only difference was that this time we were fortunate enough to encounter a poor shooting night from them.”
The 49ers, who shot just 25.5 percent from the floor, were unable to make a late charge like they did a week ago.
“We just stayed aggressive this time,” Simpson said. “That game taught us that we can’t get tentative. We can’t play to not make a mistake because it opens the door for teams to catch up.”
Saturday – UC Riverside 57, UC Davis 53
On Saturday, it was the Aggies who were the ones playing catch up.
When UC Riverside got out to an early 14-point lead, UC Davis knew it was time to respond.
Over the final 12 minutes of the first half, the Aggies turned that 14-point deficit into a six-point lead.
“We struggled in the beginning,” Simpson said. “We came back from being down because we were playing great defensively.”
UC Davis kept its momentum going to begin the second half as they didn’t trail until there was 1:39 left in regulation.
The Aggies was unable to overcome their 13 second-half turnovers and ultimately fell at the hands of the Highlanders.
“Unfortunately, we gave the ball up,” Simpson said. “It was a great defensive battle. We just kept the status quo and let them back in.”
As a result, UC Riverside now sits atop the conference standings – a position UC Davis had its sights set on.
“We had an opportunity but didn’t take advantage of it,” Simpson said. “However, we’re still in control of our own destiny.”
MARK LING can be reached at email@example.com.