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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Column: It’s all mental

It is amazing that two teams can be so similar, and yet at the same time so different.

UC Davis men’s and women’s basketball both started this year with a new head coach, and without a pair of last season’s stars. Both teams even employ zone defenses and preach a strategy that emphasizes holding opponents to low scores.

But when it comes to the results on the court, the teams could not be any more different.

The women’s basketball squad has started the 2011-12 season with an impressive 5-0 record, including a statement win on the road against Pacific-12 opponent Washington. On the other hand, the men’s team has won just one of its first seven games — and that lone victory came unimpressive match-up against Division III UC Santa Cruz.

Never has the difference between the two sides been more apparent than during last Tuesday’s double-header — when the women played University of San Francisco at 4:45 p.m. followed immediately by the men taking on rival Sacramento State.

The women’s team went back and forth for the first few minutes, but took the lead with five minutes left in the first half and never gave it up.

Once coach Jennifer Gross’ team took a double-digit lead there was no doubt they would hang on, and indeed the Aggies succeeded with a 14-point win.

The game that followed was a very different story.

The men’s team took a big lead early, and held a 10-point advantage at the break.

But even as the team looked to be in control, it was hard to feel confident that the team would win. And as the lead began to dwindle, the Aggie fans braced themselves for what was to come.

The Aggies surrendered the lead with five minutes left, and ultimately fell to the Hornets 69-61.

The lesson learned that the night is simple –– in college basketball it’s all about your team’s mental toughness.

While Gross certainly deserves credit for UC Davis women’s basketball’s success this season, she took over a team with a winning philosophy already instilled during Sandy Simpson’s 14-year tenure as head coach.

On the other side, the men’s team is still struggling to shake the mindset left behind by the disastrous Gary Stewart regime.

But while the men’s basketball team is not where fans would like it to be, for the first time in years there is reason for optimism.

Though many UC Davis fans may have preferred to enter this season with a positive outlook, realistic supporters knew that the team would struggle in 2011-12.

Both Mark Payne and Joe Harden graduated at the end of the last season, leaving UC Davis with a young team that will take time to mature.

The Aggies consistently start multiple underclassmen, and those young players have shown true potential.

Sophomore Harrison DuPont has proven his ability to get to the basket in his first season with the team, and freshman Tyrell Corbin has shown the playmaking abilities the team needs to compete at the Division I level.

And for the first time since Dominic Calegari graced Hamilton Court the Aggies have legitimate post presence.

Sophomore Josh Ritchart has shown great improvement from last season and is leading UC Davis with 15 points per-game.

Add to Ritchart fellow sophomore Alex Tiffin and freshman JT Adenrele — who presents an impressive if still raw skill-set — and there is reason to believe that this team could continue to improve.

Now they just need to continue growing mentally to build the program.

While that is much easier said than done, coach Jim Les has the potential to get the job done, but doing so will take time.

If nothing else, however, Aggie fans can hang their hats on the fact that — thanks to Cal State Northridge’s postseason suspension — UC Davis will make an appearance in the Big West Conference Tournament this season, which was more than last year’s team could boast.

TREVOR CRAMER can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.

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