The UC Davis men’s basketball team rallied to overcome a 12-point second half deficit and beat UC Santa Cruz 84-78 on Tuesday night.
It was the first win for new head coach Jim Les, who is now 1-3 in his first season with the Aggies.
With the hope opener behind them, the team is looking toward Friday’s match-up against Pac-12 opponent Stanford, who they last played in 2009-10, losing 69-85.
If they want to have a better result this year against the Cardinal, the Aggies will need to improve on both ends of the court, as they didn’t exactly impress against the Division III Banana Slugs.
UC Davis started slowly on Tuesday, shooting 42 percent from the field in the first half while allowing UC Santa Cruz to shoot 65 percent.
The struggles continued in the second half as the out-sized Banana Slugs continued to hurt the defense with quick guard play and physical rebounding.
For the Aggies, the spark they needed came from 6’5” sophomore Harrison DuPont, who was playing in his first game of the season after picking up a concussion in the preseason.
DuPont brought energy to the court with his physical play, and UC Davis stopped settling for jump shots and instead pushed the ball inside to their skilled forward, who finished with 15 points.
“I liked [Harrison’s] aggressiveness attacking the basket,” Les said. “We saw that he was a competitor [and] he wasn’t going to allow us to lose.
In his first regular season game at the Pavilion, freshman guard Tyrell Corbin scored a game-high 16 points and helped the Aggies secure victory by going 10-10 from the free throw line in the second half.
“I just want to win,” Corbin said. “Whatever I have to do if its shooting free throws or getting someone an open shot then that’s what I want to do.”
Still, Les is adamant that Corbin, DuPont and the rest of his players must adapt a team-first defensive attitude if they want to have success.
“It takes all five guys on the floor with great commitment, energy, and enthusiasm on the defensive end,” Les said. “[The game against Santa Cruz] was a great message.
“Just the change of philosophy, of ‘x’s and ‘o’s, the change of the guy sitting in this seat isn’t enough. They have to change and we’re trying to lead them down that path. Until we get all five guys in concert getting after it and realizing how important that team is were going to have some inconsistencies.”
On Friday in the Pavilion, the Stanford Cardinal will be ready to exploit any lapses in the UC Davis defense.
The 4-0 Cardinal come to Davis while in the middle of their NIT Season Tip-Off tournament, having beaten Fresno State and Colorado State in the first two rounds. Stanford will continue the tournament in New York early next week.
If all goes according to plan for the Aggies, the Cardinal will be thinking about its loss at the Pavilion during the long flight east.
“Stanford is a great team,” DuPont said. “But if we go out and do what we’re supposed to, play hard, the result will take care of itself.”
It won’t be easy to deal with the size and skill of the Pac-12 team.
“I think they’re a big physical team yet they’ve got athleticism too,” Les said of Stanford. “We have to be the aggressor on the defensive end of the floor and we have to compete every possession.”
One player who certainly wants a shot at the Cardinal is former California player Eddie Miller, now in his second year with UC Davis.
Miller made his return from a leg injury Tuesday against the Banana Slugs, but played limited minutes as Les looks to build physical confidence in the senior leader.
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