While the UC Davis student body enjoyed vacation, the men’s basketball team was hard at work with a rigorous December schedule.
The Aggies suffered three losses and posted two wins, finishing with a 6-8 non-conference record by the end of the month.
Coach Gary Stewart is happy with the team’s evolution and improvement, as UC Davis has moved to an even 1-1 record in the Big West.
Dec. 13 – UCLA 74, UC Davis 67
For a team with so many rookies, UC Davis held its own on the road against a high-quality UCLA team.
However, the high-powered Bruins squad was too much for the young Aggies.
Freshman Josh Ritchart led UC Davis with 23 points off the bench, including three consecutive threes late in the game. UCLA survived UC Davis’ final run en route to the 74-67 win.
Stewart isn’t dissatisfied with the outcome, as UC Davis would benefit from the loss as it prepared for Big West competition.
“We’re a work in progress,” Stewart said. “We’ve got so many guys who are freshmen, so games like this are valuable lessons that we can learn from. This will help us, especially when we start conference play in January and February.”
The Aggies had a season-low of eight turnovers in the game, forcing Bruins into 15.
Stewart particularly liked the way his team valued the ball.
“We’re taking better care of the basketball,” Stewart said. “At the beginning of the season, it seemed like we turned the ball over on every possession and now we’re not turning the ball over as much.”
Three Aggies shot in double figures, with guards Joe Harden and Mark Payne finishing with 16 and 14 points, respectively.
Tuesday – UC Davis 88, Cal State Fullerton 72
What had started as a neck-and-neck game at Titan Gym turned into a dominating Aggie win.
The game was close at the outset. However a 14-2 UC Davis run late in the first half opened up the game for the Aggies.
“As we have practiced together and gotten more continuity, we have significantly improved our ability to pass the ball,” Stewart said. “We’ve gotten more opportunities because of that and we were able to capitalize on that [against Cal State Fullerton].”
The Titans opened up the second half with a 12-4 run to cut the deficit to 40-39 by the 15:29 mark.
UC Davis responded with an 11-2 run of its own, which was capped by a Ryan Howley jumper for the 51-41 lead.
“We got in a good rhythm and the ball naturally flowed to the open person.” Stewart said. “We feel like we’ve built a team where anyone who gets open and squares their shoulders can knock down shots.”
Ritchart and guard Eddie Miller were the leading scorers for the Aggies with 20 points apiece. Harden and forward Ryan Sypkens also boosted the offense with 15 and 17 points, respectively.
Thursday – Cal State Northridge 87, UC Davis 81
While Payne and Sypkens highlighted the UC Davis stat sheet with 19 points each, the Aggie defense couldn’t quite stop the Matadors’ offensive effort.
“We didn’t have an answer for anything they did on the offensive end,” Stewart said. “We just couldn’t get stops. We tried a multitude of things, so credit Northridge. They did an excellent job of staying disciplined and aggressive.”
Cal State Northridge took a one-point lead into halftime after shooting 52 percent from the field.
In the latter frame, the Aggies couldn’t stop Matador forward Rashaun McLemore, who recorded a game-high 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Additionally, forward Lenny Daniel helped the Northridge offense with his sixth double double of the season on 18 points and 10 boards.
An offensive burst gave the Aggies hope late in the second – Harden converted a layup and Howley made a three to cut the deficit to five.
That was as close as UC Davis would get as Northridge finished with four free throws to grab the victory.
“It’s really disappointing that we averaged 84 points on the week and came away 1-1,” Stewart said. “But that’s basketball. We live and die with our effort on the defensive end. We’ll deal with the emotion of the game and settle down. Then we’ll work on some things that we hope to get better at.”
Stewart hopes his team can make the necessary improvements for Thursday conference home opener against UC Santa Barbara. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.
GRACE SPRAGUE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.