When UC Davis headed to Oklahoma last Friday, they forgot that they were the underdogs, slated to lose by a serious margin. Road games were not kind to the Aggies last year, but there is a new roster and a new energy this season.
The game was a sparring match from start to finish. Oklahoma State was consistently ahead on the scoreboard but the Aggies kept the margin thin by winning the rebound advantage 43-29.
Every Aggie that hit the court grabbed at least one rebound Friday night, but senior Ryan Howley was the standout contributor, earning a total of 13 rebounds in the game.
That is the kind of hustle head coach Jim Les has been emphasizing this season. He wants a squad with an unmatched work ethic on the defensive side of the paint and he saw the fruits of their labors on Friday night.
“The players were ready to work hard and compete against a talented team,” Les said.
Offensively, the Aggies were impressive but they were just behind the Cowboys for most of the game. UC Davis did manage to tie it up with five minutes left to play, but the Cowboys went on a late-game scoring streak that gave them the 73-68 win.
Redshirt freshman Corey Hawkins debuted his talents against the Cowboys on Friday and led the Aggies in scoring, earning 13 points in his first collegiate game.
Hawkins is the kind of explosive talent UC Davis has been craving. He adds an incredible amount of talent to an already loaded offense, but more importantly he brings a spark to a defensive unit that struggled all of last year.
The newfound depth of the roster had a profound impact Friday night. Many of the starters were sidelined by cramps or foul troubles and when Les called on his bench, they rose to the occasion.
Freshman Darius Graham scored seven points and snagged five rebounds in his collegiate debut. Graham is another new addition to Les’ roster, and the Sacramento native looks to be another tenacious contender on the court.
Meanwhile, junior Tyler Les continues to hassle defenses with his shooting accuracy. He went 2-4 on three-point attempts, scoring six points and nabbing three rebounds during the game.
Junior Josh Ritchart continues to work hard in the paint and he managed to grab five rebounds for UC Davis on Friday. He also scored 10 points, which including sinking another three-pointer from the perimeter.
The team is still a long way from rejoicing, but this was the best road performance the Aggies have had in about a year. Oklahoma State is a notoriously loud arena with some serious crowd influence, but UC Davis was able to ignore the shouts and play their game.
“Even though the loss may sting, I told my players that they should be proud of their efforts. If we can continue playing like that, we will become a tough team to play against,” Les said.
The Aggie defense certainly kept this game within reach. Unfortunately, some of UC Davis’ shots failed to fall in the basket, which caused the loss.
The Aggies will win if they can keep up the work load. Also, the big men in the middle need to avoid foul troubles, which sidelined sophomore J.T. Adenrele on Friday night.
Defensive rebounds lead to more offensive scores and that is the formula coach Les has been hammering home this year.
Luckily, the Aggies will have the crowd on their side when they come home to face Northern Arizona University next Sunday afternoon.
KIM CARR can be reached at email@example.com.