Teams: UC Davis at UC Santa Barbara; at Cal Poly
Records: Aggies 8-12 (4-5); Gauchos 7-14 (3-7); Mustangs 9-11 (5-5)
Where: The Thunderdome — Santa Barbara, Calif.; Robert A. Mott Gymnasium — San Luis Obispo, Calif.
When: Thursday at 7 p.m.; Saturday at 7 p.m.
Who to watch: Junior Josh Ritchart scored a season-high 22 points during last week’s loss to Pacific. He will be tasked with the challenge of repeating that performance this week. The Aggies are faced with two tough road games this week, and as if they needed more pressure, they may have to perform without leading scorer sophomore Corey Hawkins.
Head coach Jim Les told his players they had to step up to fill the gap left by Hawkins’ absence and Ritchart took that message to heart. The junior landed shots from the field, beyond the arc and the free throw line to spearhead the Aggies’ offense.
The best thing about the Auburn, Calif. native is his ability to be a threat from anywhere on the court, even those his 6’9” frame typecasts him as a center. His accuracy allows coach Les to have two big men on the floor at the same time. By stacking Ritchart and sophomore J.T. Adenrele on the court at the same time, UC Davis has the option of running with either center, and using the other to run screens or take perimeter shots that are difficult to contest due to their size advantages.
Did you know? Sophomore Corey Hawkins became the first player in school history to score more than 40 points in a single game. Hawkins landed 40 points against Hawai’i on Jan. 19, breaking the previous single game scoring record for UC Davis. Former record holder Mike Lien managed to bank 39 points in a 1979 contest against Cal State Stanislaus.
Preview: UC Davis needs wins. They have a chance at sweeping this week’s contests, moving them to 6-5 in Big West Conference play. They face the Gauchos on Sunday, and whether they have Hawkins or not, they need to find a way to spread the ball and score.
Fortunately, there is no lack of offensive weapons in Les’ arsenal. Junior Ryan Sypkens is simply magic from beyond the three-point line, and he is earning national recognition for his accuracy and production as a three-point shooter. Sypkens’ agility also allows him to skirt around the court and land shots from the paint as well.
Adenrele continues to shine as a center. His newfound strength is allowing him to establish dominance in the paint, and it is earning him plenty of dunks. The best thing about Adenrele is his shocking success from the free-point line. As a center, it does not pay to foul him because he rarely misses a free throw.
“J.T. has worked really hard on free throws in the offseason and it’s wonderful to see the payout,” Les said.
Of course there is Les’ own son, junior Tyler Les, who is best known for his energy on defense and his knack for making big shots to recharge the offense. However, Tyler is more than an explosive shooter; he is excellent at moving the ball and finding the open man. He recently set a new career-high for himself, ending the game against UC Riverside with 7 assists.
UC Davis can beat UCSB. If they hold onto their defensive focus, they should be able to walk away victorious. The trip to Cal Poly will be slightly more challenging.
The game against the Mustangs was a continuous back and forth that was only finished when Hawkins managed to make a miraculous fall-away, buzzer beater to give UC Davis a one-point advantage. Cal Poly’s Chris Eversely was constantly finding new ways to break through the Aggie defense and their biggest task will be trying to find an effective way to neutralize his play.
The Aggies will also need to keep their own offensive productivity up. A good defense is key, but they need to find ways to make up for the points they will lack if Hawkins is stuck on the bench.
This week will really nail down the final conference placings and it will certainly be tough for them to walk away with two wins. They are a hard-working group with talent; they just need to apply their corrections and maintain focus throughout the game.
— Kim Carr