No team in America can afford to have its starting guards sitting on the bench.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, seniors Mark Payne and Todd Lowenthal were out due to injury for both Thursday’s 77-65 loss to the Gauchos and Saturday’s 48-43 loss to the Mustangs.
Coach Gary Stewart said their absence made a notable impact on UC Davis in both games.
“Payne and Lowenthal are starting and playing significant minutes for a reason,” Stewart said. “It doesn’t mean that who we had on the floor weren’t good players, but anytime your depth is affected by injury, there’s going to be a significant change in how you play.”
Thursday – UC Santa Barbara 77, UC Davis 65
Stewart says that whenever there’s an open opportunity to shoot from beyond the arc, his team will take the shot.
UC Davis shot 27 of its 49 shots from three-point range against UCSB, but could only sink 33 percent – below the team’s 37 percent season average.
“I felt like we could have been more aggressive offensively,” Stewart said. “We got a little tentative on the offensive end and that affected our defensive intensity.”
Junior forward Eddie Miller highlighted the Aggie offense, shooting 8-for-12 on the night for 18 points.
Meanwhile, the Gauchos shot 48 percent from the field with a tandem of Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally leading the effort, posting 21 and 17 points, respectively.
The teams traded leads up to the break. UCSB, however, began to pull away early in the second half.
A Ryan Silva three with under six minutes to play cut the Gaucho lead to four, but that’s as close as the Aggies would get. Two final turnovers gave UCSB all the momentum they needed to run away with the 77-65 win.
Stewart primarily attributed the loss to his team’s overall mishandling of the basketball.
“We had it down to a two possession game and we turned the ball over twice,” said Stewart. “We couldn’t afford to do that. Not only in that situation, but 17 turnovers in the game is going to make it difficult to come away with a win.”
Saturday – Cal Poly 48, UC Davis 43
When a team that is dependent on its three-point shooting goes only 16 percent from beyond the arc, it’s going to be a frustrating night.
In front of a loud crowd of 2,885, the Aggies put themselves in a hole, shooting 3-18 from long range and 0-8 in the second half en route to their lowest scoring total on the year.
“This was a really tough loss for us,” said senior Joe Harden. “We fought hard and they’re a tough team – they played us well tonight.”
Just before halftime, two Harden free throws cut the Mustang lead to 25-24, a gap Harden would eventually close with a layup at the beginning of the second frame.
The momentum shifted back and forth throughout the latter half. With 36 seconds remaining, Miller hit a jumper inside the paint to keep UC Davis alive, down just 45-43.
A Cal Poly free throw gave the Mustangs a three-point lead. Stewart called a timeout with the clock showing 18 seconds.
UC Davis was one well-executed play from tying the game, but another Aggie turnover took that shot away.
Despite the 48-43 loss to the Mustangs, the Aggies showed a tenacity that made Stewart proud.
“It wasn’t just the final minutes,” Stewart said. “I think we competed well. We got on the floor for balls, and that’s part of the character of the guys we have. I’m proud of their effort and our competitiveness.”
UC Davis is next in action on Thursday night when it hits the road for a matchup against conference leader Long Beach State.
GRACE SPRAGUE can be reached at email@example.com.