Teams: UC Davis at UC Irvine; at UC Riverside
Records: Aggies, 9-17, (3-9); Anteaters, 11-17, (4-9); Highlanders, 9-16, (4-8)
Where: Crawford Court – Irvine, Calif.; UCR Student Recreation Center – Riverside, Calif.
When: Thursday at 7 p.m.; Saturday at 5 p.m.
Who to watch: Mark Payne never seems satisfied as a competitor.
The senior out of Stockton, Calif. has set new individual game-highs in points scored twice this season, starting on Jan. 29 when he posted 32 against UC Irvine.
That was when the Aggies struck the Anteaters in a 108-107 double-overtime victory, thanks to a Payne layup with just seconds left on the clock.
A week later, Payne set his sights higher, recording 33 points against UC Santa Barbara.
Did you know? Whichever team loses in this Thursday’s matchup between UC Davis and UC Irvine will be unable to finish with more than six conference wins, meaning all teams with seven wins qualify for the Big West Tournament.
Preview: The talk in the locker room is that it’s crunch time.
At half a game out of eighth place in the league, the Aggies head on a two-game road trip to take on the Anteaters and the Highlanders.
Eighth place is all UC Davis needs to qualify for the Big West Tournament, so the Aggies control their own destiny.
“We were talking about that upstairs,” said freshman Josh Ritchart. “It’s a big week for us. It would be huge to get those two wins down there. That would pull us out of our last-place standing right now and then we have two home games against teams we know we can beat…we’re going to come out to practice with intensity and really look to win both of those games.”
Coach Gary Stewart says games like Thursday night’s against UC Irvine is what college basketball is all about – a meaningful game on the road.
“There are a lot of important games and this is going to be one of them Thursday,” Stewart said. “It’s fun to play in those games because as a competitor, you’re challenged, and you know that you have to do things correctly for a long period of time to have success. And competitors like putting themselves in those types of positions.”
Luckily for UC Davis, Stewart believes his team can handle a challenge.
“I like the way that [this team can] compete,” Stewart said. “We’ve got some tough guys in that locker room, and they understand what’s at stake.”
– Grace Sprague