On Wednesday, UC Davis headed south for a matchup against the Big West Conference’s number one team, Long Beach State. If the 49ers were expecting to blow another team out at home, they were sorely mistaken.
The Aggies took the court without their three-point connoisseur, junior Ryan Sypkens. Luckily, sophomore Corey Hawkins decided it would be a great night to emulate Sypkens’ form beyond the arc. Hawkins banked four threes for 12 points in the first half alone.
UC Davis was scorching in the first half. Hawkins was not alone in frustrating the 49er defense. Junior Tyler Les also landed three three-pointers of his own, while senior Paolo Mancasola made a three, two assists and a nice steal to help continue to Aggies’ momentum.
At the end of the half, UC Davis was leading a stunned Long Beach State 33-24.
After the break, the 49ers started to pull back in it. They stepped up their defense and they were finally able to showcase that high-flying offense. Ultimately, this game came down to the wire and the Aggies were simply sapped of the energy needed to close it out.
UC Davis’ roster was severely limited that night. Sypkens was out, and several other players were held to limited minutes, meaning that Hawkins played every single minute of the game. Les and Mancasola were right there with him, tagging 38 and 36 minutes, respectively.
Long Beach managed to pull away with a 71-65 victory, but the score does not showcase the fight that went on between the teams.
“They played their tails off tonight, fought hard and battled,” Les said.
He said he felt like his players learned a lot during the loss, and he is quite certain that the Aggies will be able to bounce back and fight even harder next time.
“This was a valiant effort, hopefully we will have a big crowd turn out on March 7, when we see these guys again and take another shot at the best team in our league,” he said.
UC Davis was not able to dwell on the loss for long because they had plenty of prep to do for Saturday’s game against Northern Colorado.
This game posed an interesting challenge for the Aggies because it gave them a chance to size themselves up against a relatively unknown opponent.
To set the stage, know that the Bears are in the Big Sky conference and they have a productive offense that relies on two major players. Their defensive intensity is their strong suit and they have plenty of guys who like to jump into passing lanes for steals.
UC Davis started the game with incredible spark, going up 28-17 in the first seven minutes. However, the Bears began to creep back in and they ended the first half with a 39-34 advantage.
The second half continued the back-and-forth between the teams. Both squads shot for over 60 percent from the field and neither had the defense breakdown that usually decides who will win.
The game definitely kept fans guessing and the victor was not decided until the final second of the game.
With Davis trailing by one, sophomore J.T. Adenrele made a beastly block on defense that allowed the Aggies to have the ball back with 30 seconds left. UC Davis called a timeout to draft their final play and everyone assumed the ball would go to Mr. Red-Hot Hawkins, who had already scored 34 points that game.
Hawkins did get the ball and he took it down the court to try and set up a play for himself. As he drove into the basket, the Bears swarmed to him like bees on a hive, refusing to let Hawkins burn them again. Somehow, through the mass of blue, Hawkins managed to find another white jersey at the top of the key. He zipped the ball to a waiting Mancasola who sent up a beautiful shot with 1.8 seconds left.
Mancasola and Co. exploded as it swished through the net, giving UC Davis the 79-78 advantage and the win.
UC Davis knew that this was not their best performance. The 18 turnovers and missed free-throws told them that, but they were ecstatic to have another buzzer-beater win.
“I was standing right under the basket when he [Mancasola] shot it, I knew it was good when it left his hands. I just did not want to celebrate too early,” Hawkins said.
Mancasola took no credit for his own, but mentioned Hawkins’ impressive sixth-sense that allowed him to dish the pass out.
“I could not believe he [Hawkins] had the awareness to find me with three guys standing all around him. I had to put it in for him,” Mancasola said.
Coach Les was proud of the resilience and maturity his team has shown over the last week, despite the setbacks.
“This team is all about finding ways to win. You can see them grow and mature as we head down the stretch with some big conference games ahead,” Les said.
KIM CARR can be reached at email@example.com.