The 2011-12 men’s basketball season got off to a rough start this weekend as the team lost all three games it played in the Basketball Traveler’s Tournament at San Diego State.
But fans shouldn’t start running for the exits just yet.
The three tournament games were first regular season contests under new head coach Jim Les, who came to UC Davis this past spring after nine years in charge of his alma mater, Bradley.
Les led the Bradley Braves to the sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament in 2006 and was 154-140 overall in his nine years there.
Now in charge of the Aggies, Les is asking the players to adapt to his system, which focuses on physical up-tempo defense, something never seen under former head coach Gary Stewart.
If anything, this weekend’s slate of games showed that the Aggies have yet to fully integrate Les’s strategy.
They’re starting to figure it out, though, said Les, and the execution will only get better with time.
“We need to play games,” Les said. “The guys need to get used to our system and doing it live. It’s a young group [and] they’re learning a whole new way of thinking and doing things. There’s a process that you need to go through in order to eventually achieve success.”
The five starters from the season opener against Southern Utah — Ryan Sypkens, Josh Ritchart, Ryan Howley, Tyrell Corbin and Alex Tiffin — each garnered three starts this weekend, as Les never altered the opening lineup.
Those five will not be the starters all season, though. Les will have key decisions to make upon the return from injury of Eddie Miller and Harrison Dupont, two presumptive starters.
The coach is unwilling to risk further injury to his players by rushing them back to the court and classified their status as both “day to day.”
Friday – Southern Utah 76, UC Davis, 75
The contest against the Thunderbirds was the closest of the weekend.
UC Davis was down 73-66 with 34 seconds remaining before ratcheting up backcourt pressure and scoring two baskets, cutting the lead to 74-72 with 13 seconds left.
The Aggies forced a turnover and had a chance to tie the game or win, before turning it over themselves.
After a UC Davis foul, Southern Utah made two free throws to extend the lead to four, and a UC Davis three as time expired did nothing to change the outcome.
Despite the furious comeback, Les was displeased with his team’s physical effort, as they were out-rebounded 43-23 in the game.
“I thought Friday was an aberration for who we are,” Les said. “I really got into them after the game about how they performed in particular on the defensive end and their ability to finish the defense and pay attention to personnel and how guys need to be played.”
Saturday – Bryant 70, UC Davis 63
The players took Coach Les’s message to the court on Saturday, playing tough defense against a physical Bryant team.
Seventy was the fewest points the Aggies gave up in a game this weekend, and the rebounding was there as well, with Bryant grabbing only four more boards than UC Davis.
Saturday’s contest was also the clearest representation of the shooting ability of this young UC Davis team.
Sypkens was 4-8 from behind the arc, Howley was 3-5 and Ritchart led the way going 5-9 from deep.
“The one thing that stands out to me daily is that we’re a very good shooting team,” Les said. “What I’m convincing them about is that we’re a defensive team that can score.”
Sunday – San Diego State 89, UC Davis 74
The Aztecs, a sweet 16 team last year, provided the stiffest competition of the tournament for the Aggies.
San Diego State took a 48-29 lead into halftime and then used an 18-6 run in the second half to put the game out of reach.
“We missed some really good shots in the first half,” Les said. “To come back in the second half and shoot 62 percent as a team [is great]. They key for us is when we go through those stretches where shots don’t fall, we’ve got to become stingier on defense. It’s a mindset.”
The Aggies have another chance to get their first win of the season tonight against the Division III Banana Slugs of UC Santa Cruz at the Pavilion at 7 p.m.
CAELUM SHOVE can be reached at email@example.com.