Teams: UC Davis at UC Irvine; at UC Riverside
Records: Aggies, 1-19 (0-8); Anteaters, 8-13 (4-4); Highlanders, 10-11 (4-4)
Where: Bren Events Center — Irvine, Calif.; Student Recreation Center — Riverside, Calif.
When: Tonight at 7 p.m.; Saturday at 7 p.m.
Who to watch: At the beginning of the season head coach Jim Les said that he was going to throw his freshman to the wolves.
That statement has played out for one player in particular: freshman point guard Tyrell Corbin.
Corbin, son of Utah Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin, has started 17 of 20 games this season — averaging just over 25 minutes per game.
The freshman guard leads the team in assists on the season with 65, but has also tallied 64 turnovers season.
Despite the giveaways, Les has been pleased with the development of his young point guard, and says that he no longer sees his younger players as underclassmen.
“We’ve got freshman and sophomores that have logged a lot of minutes,” Les said. “I look at them as experienced players [now].
“The second time around the league they need to make some adjustments and that’s going to help them play better through the rigors of a league season.”
For his part, Corbin has seen his own improvement throughout the season and is ready to continue the growth.
“I’m more confident going to the basket,” he said. “Offensively I think I’m doing better getting other guys shots and it’s working out.”
Did you know? After 20 games, sophomore guard Tyler Les ranks in the top 50 in the nation in three-point field goal percentage. Les has made 55 of 119 attempts from behind the arc this season, averaging 2.8 three-pointers made per game.
Preview: Down in Southern California for the fourth time this season, the Aggies are eager to hit the floor and avenge two close losses from earlier this year.
When UC Riverside came to the Pavilion early in January, the Aggies lost by two after Eddie Miller’s game-tying basket at the end of regulation was called off for an offensive foul.
Against UC Irvine, UC Davis felt it was the better team but failed to keep up with the Anteaters run-and-gun pace.
“[UC] Irvine really pushed the tempo against us,” Les said. “We didn’t do a good job in our transition defense. We’ve got to get back and set our defense [this time].”
Headed into the gyms of fellow UC schools and Big West Conference opponents, the Aggies are ready to show what they’re capable of.
“We take it as motivation,” Corbin said of playing on the road. “Going back down there, we have a chance to get two wins against teams that we should have beat [at home].”
In both games this weekend the Aggies must come out with the same defensive intensity they showed last week against Cal Poly.
After a fiery first half against the Mustangs, UC Davis entered the break with a 14-point advantage, by far its largest halftime lead of the season.
“[The players] are starting to see how competitive they can be when they bring that type of energy on the defensive end of the floor,” Les said. “That habit doesn’t just show up on game night — it comes with doing it every day in practice.”
Against Irvine’s fast pace, defensive energy will be paramount.
The Anteaters leads the Big West in three-pointers made, averaging nine per game, and also lead the conference in defensive rebounding.
And should the games this weekend come down to the final few possessions, as they have for the Aggies five times already this season, Les is confident that his group is ready to take that last step and earn its first conference win of the season.
“I think they’re feeling better about themselves because of the progress they’re making individually and collectively,” the coach said. “The more we’re in that situation the more guys are going to gain confidence to step up and make plays.”