Haylee Donaghe has taken off the net.
Since winning the Big West Conference regular season championship a week ago, the senior from Atascadero, Calif. had been preparing with her team for her final conference tournament.
That determination took the Aggies down to the wire.
After beating UC Santa Barbara to advance to the finals, UC Davis ran into red-hot shooting from UC Riverside and ultimately lost to the Highlanders in the title game.
Friday – UC Davis 63, UC Santa Barbara 53
For 11 of the past 13 seasons, UC Santa Barbara has won the Big West Tournament, including a championship game victory over UC Davis in 2008.
That was then. This is now.
The Aggies, who swept the Gauchos in the regular season, continued to clean up as UC Davis defeated UC Santa Barbara in the semi-finals by a score of 63-53.
“I remember back to when we lost to UCSB two years ago,” Donaghe said. “It was heartbreaking. We came out and they were still cutting down the nets. It was just a slap in the face. I’ve tried to use that moment to motivate myself and give a veteran’s point of view to my teammates so that we can be the ones cutting down the net.”
The first half was all UC Davis as it rode 19 UC Santa Barbara turnovers to a 14-point lead at the break.
“We made a run that could have broken the spirit of some teams,” said coach Sandy Simpson. “But they showed a lot of character coming back.”
The Gauchos using solid rebounding to battle back to within two with 3:21 remaining.
Donaghe and point guard Hana Asano responded to the late charge with the play of the game.
With just 1:17 left, the shot clock winding down and the Aggies up by six, Asano shook her defender, drove the basket and dished a no-look pass to Donaghe who finished with a lay-up in the face of the Gaucho defenders. The basket gave UC Davis an eight-point lead that would prove to be too much for UCSB to overcome.
“That was one of the best plays I’ve seen this year,” Simpson said with a smile.
UC Davis then headed to the championship game to play UC Riverside with the post season conference crown and an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament on the line.
Saturday – UC Riverside 71, UC Davis 67
The Aggies knew that this would be a tough game.
What they didn’t know is that the Highlanders would make it rain from beyond the arc.
Amber Cox and Alyssa Morris combined to shoot 10-12 from long distance and powered the UC Riverside offense for most of the game.
“It seems that every time we play Riverside, it’s a good game,” Simpson said. “Tonight was no exception. It was just too much Amber Cox and too much Alyssa Morris. We couldn’t have defended some of their threes any better but they knocked them down.”
Paige Mintun and Heidi Heintz led the Aggies in scoring with 19 and 22, respectively. The duo was also named to the Big West All-Tournament Team.
Despite the loss, the Aggies’ season is not over.
In winning the regular season conference title, they clinched an automatic berth into the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. Round one takes place from March 17-19.
MARK LING can be reached at email@example.com.