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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Column: More than a win

On the surface it doesn’t seem like much.

Typically a men’s basketball team playing at home against a squad that has won just two of 12 conference games would expect to come away victorious.

But anyone who was at Thursday night’s win over Cal State Northridge knows that it was far more than just a win — it might have been the team’s biggest victory since beating Pacific in 2010.

In a season that has been characterized by grim disappointment, a plummeting RPI and a losing streak that spanned 18 games, the Aggies needed one in the win column and they finally got it.

And you could see the relief in the team’s eyes as head coach Jim Les and his players took the time to high-five members of the Aggie Pack following the playing of the Alma Mater.

“It was long-awaited and it feels great,” said senior Eddie Miller who led UC Davis with 24 points. “We really needed that.”

While this one win won’t put the Aggies in the NCAA Tournament or even bring their record close to .500, it allows the team to do something it has been trying to do for weeks: move forward as a program.

Since the conference season began in late December, the talk about the team has centered on the losing streak — and as the streak grew, so did the pressure on the team.

It’s too soon to tell if UC Davis has “learned how to win close games” or even if this win will translate into more victories in the future (and you can throw Saturday’s loss to Long Beach State out the window because they are far better than any squad in the Big West Conference), but with the pressure now off we will have a chance to see what this team is really made of.

The win over the Matadors did three main things to help the UC Davis men’s basketball program.

The first is it takes the team a step further away from the national spotlight. It has yet to be seen if UC Davis will move up from the last spot in the RPI (official NCAA RPI rankings are released on Mondays, and 0-23 Binghampton is playing Sunday after this story is completed), but ending the losing streak ensures that the Aggies no longer show up on ESPN’s list of longest active winless runs.

Secondly the game taught us a lot about what UC Davis is capable of down the stretch. During previous close games this season the Aggies have had a tendency to move into a disjointed and ultimately ineffective offense down the stretch, but in the final few minutes against CSU Northridge UC Davis moved the ball, was patient and found good looks at the basket.

We also found out that Tyler Les has the potential to make shots in the clutch. The three-pointer he hit in the final minute with a defender in his face gave the Aggies a two-possession lead and gave the impression that he might be one of UC Davis’ best options for late game scoring.

Thirdly, and most important, this win ensures that the losing streak will not plague the Aggies as they head into next season. Thursday’s game against CSU Northridge was easily UC Davis’ best chance to get a win for the rest of the season — as it was at home against the eighth-ranked team in the Big West.

Had the Aggies fallen short against the Matadors, there was a very scary possibility that the team could enter next season carrying a losing streak of over 25 games. With that hanging over their heads, it would be difficult to see how the team could come out sharp at the start of the 2012-13 season.

But with the win in their pocket the Aggies will find it much easier to put this season behind them. With a solid core of impressionable young players, UC Davis can now look to the future and a group that will continue developing, both physically and mentally, into a team that could challenge for a spot atop the Big West in future seasons.

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

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