Coach Gary Stewart “oohed” and “ahhed” at Saturday night’s 108-107 double-overtime win, billing it as a 1970s heavyweight fight akin to one between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
“It’s indescribable,” Stewart said. “The gamut of emotions in that game – down 17 in the first half and playing the most explosive team offensively in our conference – our guys showed great tenacity and resolve to fight their way back.”
Stewart continued to spill his emotions.
“At the 16-minute mark in the second half, it turned into Ali-Frazier – one punch, one punch, one punch. We had one more play in us after [Anteater guard] Patrick Rembert made a great play. We had the wherewithal to inbound the ball and get it to [Aggie senior] Mark Payne, and he finished it.”
With two home victories on the weekend, UC Davis heads into the second half of Big West Conference play with positive energy and a 3-5 conference record.
Thursday – UC Davis 82, UC Riverside 52
The Aggies bounced back from last week’s 33-point loss to Pacific to bulldoze the Highlanders 82-52 Thursday night.
The blowout was due in large part to a newly renovated offense, allowing great contributions from multiple Aggies.
“Last week in practice, the coaches did a good job of revamping our offense and putting more emphasis on transition and getting out and making plays, using our athleticism and our talent,” Payne said. “It worked out really well this weekend, so I think we’ll stick with it.”
Payne and guard Ryan Sypkens each put up 16 points, following forward Joe Harden, who led UC Davis with 22 points and six rebounds.
Saturday – UC Davis 108, UC Irvine 107
With just five seconds left in the second overtime, UC Irvine hit a jumper for the 107-106 lead.
With that play, Payne thought the game was out of reach.
“Your heart sinks, and you look up at the clock and something’s got to happen,” he said. “I thought it was over – I didn’t think there was that much time.”
After 44 minutes of play and cramping muscles, nobody knew Payne had enough energy left to hit the game-winning lay-up right before the buzzer.
For Stewart, those last five seconds were in slow motion.
“It became the slowest play of the game,” said coach Gary Stewart. “I could see the clock, and I could see Mark. Thinking about it now, you’re saying, ‘Double-overtime – does he have the legs to get there and does he have the ability to finish before the horn sounds?
“He made a great play.'”
Payne said it was all about the perfect full-court pass from Eddie Miller, who in-bounded the ball.
“I was on the wing, and he threw it right down the middle of the court,” Payne said. “It bounced, and I don’t even think I dribbled. If he had thrown it to me and I had to dribble, I may not have gotten there in time. It was a great pass and a heady play by him.”
Payne finished the play with the winning bucket and the game with a career-high 32 points. Miller had 25, Harden posted 23 and Sypkens 16.
“There’s no question that it was a complete team effort,” Stewart said. “We needed everybody tonight. The seconds and minutes that people played were valuable.”
The Aggies were obviously thrilled with the victory and had fun along the way.
“It’s really exciting,” Miller said. “We’re having a blast, riding this high. It feels really good, from where we were last Saturday to turn it around and put two W’s up this week.”
Payne attributes the success to the new identity of the team.
“It tells a lot about our character,” Payne said. “After a tough loss to Pacific, we could have been whining at practice and split up. Instead we came together and had a good win [Thursday] and a great win today. Hopefully this was the weekend we needed to get things going into the second half of league.”
GRACE SPRAGUE can be reached at email@example.com.