Teams: UC Davis vs. UC Santa Barbara; vs. Cal Poly
Records: Aggies, 1-17 (0-6); Gauchos, 9-7 (4-2); Mustangs, 12-8 (3-4)
Where: The Pavilion
When: Thursday at 7 p.m.; Saturday at 7 p.m.
Who to watch: This isn’t the senior season Eddie Miller would have hoped for.
One of only two seniors on the Aggie roster, Miller finished the 2010-11 season averaging 12.5 points per game — third most on a team that included Joe Harden and Mark Payne, who both rank in the top-10 of UC Davis career scoring records.
Unfortunately for Miller, a leg injury hampered much of his preseason work this fall and allowed him to play just 14 minutes through the first seven games of the season.
In his first game back from injury on Dec. 3 Miller played 19 minutes against Idaho and scored 22 points, a season high. He followed it up with a team-high 16 points at Hawaii the next week.
Miller has struggled to get back to his best during Big West Conference play this year and had not scored in double digits since the game against Hawaii until this past weekend when he scored a team-high 12 points at Pacific.
“He was active defensively [against Pacific],” head coach Jim Les said. “We talk about not focusing on offense but on the little things. Make a hustle play, rebound, that always seems to gets the offense going.
“We want Eddie to be aggressive offensively, do it within the framework of the offense and if he does he’s going to get good opportunities to make plays.”
Did you know? UC Santa Barbara head coach Bob Williams was in charge of the UC Davis Aggies from 1990-98. Williams and the Aggies won the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Championship in 1998, and within days Williams left UC Davis to coach at UC Santa Barbara. It is the only national championship in UC Davis men’s basketball history.
Preview: Thursday’s Big West match-up against UCSB is only the third men’s game in the Pavilion since Dec. 3, as the Aggies return from their third three-game road trip of the season.
With another conference game on Saturday against Cal Poly as well, it won’t be an easy weekend at home for UC Davis, which is still winless against Division I opponents this year.
Both games of this weekend’s home stand will provide a stiff test for the struggling Aggies.
Against USSB, the young UC Davis team must deal with Orlando Johnson, a 6’5” guard who last week was named to the Midseason Top 25 list of the John R. Wooden Award, given to the best player in the nation at the end of the season.
Still, the Aggies insist one player won’t change the way they game plan.
“We’ve faced great players all season long,” junior Paolo Mancasola said. “It’s not going to be one guy that stops him, it’s going to be all five of us working together.”
The Aggies also must deal with the Gauchos’ stiff defense, which has held Big West opponents to just 38 percent shooting on the year — the lowest percentage allowed in the conference.
UCSB also leads the Big West with an average of six blocked shots per-game, two thirds or them coming from Alan Williams and Greg Somogyi, centers who stand 6’7” and 7’3”, respectively.
Saturday against Cal Poly, the Aggies will face an opponent that is first in the Big West in defensive rebounding and second in offensive rebounding, behind UCSB.
For UC Davis it will be important that big men Alex Tiffin, Josh Ritchart and J.T. Adenrele stay out of foul trouble.
In particular, Tiffin was called for three moving screens in the last contest; a similar performance this weekend would be detrimental to the Aggies rebounding strength and offensive production.
Les doesn’t consider rebounding solely the post players’ job though, insisting it is a team responsibility.
“We have to be a gang rebounding team,” he said. “The onus is on everybody to be physical and chase down the ball.”
With the team struggling this year, Les is anxious to see his players consistently outworking his opponents on the court.
“We’ve got to start establishing the fact that were going to be a tough out here at home,” Les said. “Guys have to bring an energy and enthusiasm to the Pavilion on game night and make sure we’re the team that works the hardest and hustles the most.
“Then good things will happen.”
— Caelum Shove