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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Men’s Basketball Preview

Teams: UC Davis at Cal Poly; at UC Santa Barbara
Records: Aggies, 5-23 (3-11); Mustangs, 15-14  (6-8); Gauchos, 15-9 (9-4)
Where: Mott Gym — Cal Poly, Calif.; The Thunderdome — Santa Barbara, Calif.
When: Tonight at 7 p.m.; Saturday at 7 p.m.
Who to watch: Sophomore Josh Ritchart is averaging 12.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in his second year as an Aggie. He is second on the team in three-pointers made with 67 on the season and shoots just under 40 percent from behind the arc.

Despite Ritchart’s shooting ability, head coach Jim Les has challenged his 6-9 forward to become a more versatile player this season.

The challenge has paid off. Ritchart averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds in two games last week. He also picked up two steals in each of the contests and had a potential game-saving block in the closing seconds against Cal State Fullerton.

Ritchart was named the Big West Player of the Week for his efforts, the first such award an Aggie has garnered this season.

“I’ve gotten better at learning other ways to score instead of just being a three point shooter,” Ritchart said. “Coach has been teaching me to use the shot fake, get open, [and] draw fouls. [I’m] tying to get to the basket and get to the free throw line.”

Did you know? After this weekend’s games, UC Davis will take on Long Beach State in the Big West Conference tournament next Thursday. The Aggies did not compete in the postseason tournament last year.
Preview: Winners of four out of their last six contests, the Aggies will head to Southern California this weekend to play in their final two regular season games of the year.

With a win over second-place Cal State Fullerton fresh in their minds, UC Davis will be playing with a newfound confidence.

“We’re playing well and [they] should be playing with confidence,” Coach Les said. “We’re going [to Cal Poly] with the thought of playing well and playing our game and going after a tough road win.”

Ritchart agreed that with its recent success the team has started to feel more comfortable playing together.

“I think after we got those first couple wins our confidence level really skyrocketed,” he said. “It made us play more together, just play harder knowing that we had finally got a win.”

When the Mustangs visited the Pavilion earlier this season, UC Davis caught them off guard with an up-tempo defense and rebounding effort that lead to a 39-25 halftime lead for the Aggies. Cal Poly ultimately won the game 67-65, but was given quite a scare on the road.

In this second contest between the Big West rivals, the favored Mustangs will be ready for the Aggies’ defensive pressure.

As such, UC Davis must continue with the strong rebounding that it has shown in recent games.

“We preach gang rebounding,” Les said. “We’re starting to get it and it’s key to finish the defense with the first rebound and that gives us good flow offensively.”

A similar mentality must be taken when the Aggies play at UC Santa Barbara on Saturday night.

When the Gauchos played at UC Davis in January they outrebounded the Aggies 45-23 while scoring 42 points in the paint and putting up 20 second-chance points, compared to zero for the home team.

“They’re a team that has a lot of weapons and they play really well together,” Les said of the third-place Gauchos. “Points in the paint is something that we’re going to have to deal with and be ready for and be more physical and have more of a mentality in the paint.”

The Aggies will hope to see the return of guard Paolo Mancasola from injury this weekend. Harrison DuPont has also been banged up in recent games, but Coach Les is hoping that a light week of practice will have his team healthy and rested for this final weekend of regular-season games.

— Caelum Shove


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