The Aggies entered Saturday’s NCAA National Championship Tournament first round matchup as massive underdogs, but they held their own against No. 2 Stanford.
While UC Davis was ultimately sent home with an 86-59 loss, the team feels proud of its performance at Maples Pavilion.
“I was really pleased with our effort,” said coach Sandy Simpson. “I’m very proud of our kids. We played hard the whole game and we never packed it in. I couldn’t be prouder of this group.”
The Aggies held the game close early on, tying the match at 11 five minutes into the game, and UC Davis entered the break trailing by just 12 despite a hot start by Stanford’s shooters.
Things changed in the second half as Stanford came out on a mission, scoring 44 points in the final frame, and handing the Aggies a 27-point loss.
The Cardinal shot 60 percent from the floor, matching that number from three-point range.
“They’re a solid team and they had answers for what we wanted to do,” Simpson said. “We had to pick our poison and they were hitting their threes. They’re just good.”
Stanford star Nnemkadi Ogwumike led all scorers with 22, while teammate Lindy La Roche added 14 in 11 minutes.
Six Cardinal players finished in double figures.
On the other end of the floor, the Aggies were led by senior Paige Mintun, who scored 17 in her final contest in a UC Davis uniform.
Fellow senior Heidi Heintz was the only other Aggie in double-figures with 11.
Despite taking the loss, the game was a huge step forward for the UC Davis program.
It was the Aggies’ first ever NCAA Tournament appearance; UC Davis believes it is just phase one of expanding the program.
“It’s a big accomplishment to get to this point,” Heintz said. “It’s special for this team, and it’s a good stepping stone for what this team is about to become.”
The match also marked the final appearance for head coach Sandy Simpson, as he enters retirement. Simpson announced before the season began that he would step away at the end of the year.
“I feel so blessed to have played for him these past five years,” Mintun said. “We played really hard, and it was for him. I wouldn’t want to play for any other person.”
While the Aggies will miss their head coach, Simpson believes the team will continue building under coach Jennifer Gross.
“They have the energy to move the program forward,” Simpson said. “We aspire to become not just a Big West [Conference] power, but a regional power, and I think they have the potential to do that.”
TREVOR CRAMER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.