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Davis, California

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Aggies chopped down by Cardinal

Swarming defense, solid execution and hot second-half shooting are usually guaranteed recipes for victory. Not against the sixth-best team in the country.

The UC Davis women’s basketball team marched into Maples Pavillion in Palo Alto, Calif. on Nov. 17, and for the most part, hung around with one of the most established programs in the history of college basketball before falling 66-48.

The Aggies (0-3) came out of the gates on fire defensively against a Stanford team coming off a 76-57 loss to reigning national champion and current No. 1 Connecticut on Nov. 11. The Cardinal (3-1), ranked sixth in the most recent Associated Press poll, weren’t able to convert on three consecutive second-chance opportunities on their first possession, and UC Davis sophomore Molly Greubel scored the game’s first points to give the Aggies a 2-0 lead.

That would be the Aggies’ only lead of the game. Junior Sydnee Fipps scored four straight to tie the score at six with 15 minutes to go in the opening half, but an 11-0 Cardinal run over the ensuing three minutes put the Aggies in a large deficit early.

However, the Aggies held tough, not allowing Stanford to extend its lead. Nine straight points for Fipps cut the lead to seven with about 10 minutes to play.

Fipps, the Aggies’ leading scorer at 15.7 points per game, scored 13 of the team’s first 17 points. She backed up her 25-point effort against Pacific on Nov. 11 with a team-high 14 in this one.

Stanford closed out the half on a 6-0 run, extending its lead to 34-20.

In the majority of the major upsets in college basketball, the underdog usually has to make a significant number of three pointers at a relatively high percentage. After shooting a dismal eight percent (1-12) on threes in the first half, UC Davis connected on 7-16 (48 percent) from long distance in the second.

Junior Kelsey Harris, who finished with nine points, scored all her points from behind the arc. Sophomore Heidi Johnson (who finished with six points) and junior Brianna Salvatore (eight points) each added two threes.

Back-to-back threes by Harris cut the deficit to 44-29 with 14:16 to play, but the Aggies had no answer for Stanford’s star forward, 6-foot-3 junior Chiney Ogwumike. Ogwumike, last year’s Pac-12 Player of the Year, recorded her fourth straight double-double, scoring a game-high 28 points on 13-22 shooting and pulling down 15 rebounds — five of them on the offensive end.

Stanford outrebounded UC Davis 49-37, but Gross was still pleased with her team’s effort on the glass.

“I think, of all the years that we have played them, this is the closest rebounding margin we’ve probably ever had,” Gross said. “We really tried to emphasize our rebounding today, but when you’ve got 6’5”, 6’4” and 6’3”, it’s tough, especially with the kind of athleticism they have. I thought we really battled inside, though. We had some stretches where we gave up a few boards that I thought we should have had but, for the most part, from start to finish, we competed on the boards.”

For the game, the Aggies went 18-53 (34 percent) from the field, including 8-28 (29 percent) on threes. On the flip side, UC Davis played spectacular defense at times to hold the high-powered Cardinal offense to just 35 percent from the field.

The flashes of offensive and defensive brilliance by the Aggies have their coach confident in their ability to hang with some of the country’s elite teams.

“I feel like we’re so close in so many different ways,” Gross said. “We have stretches of really exciting play where we’re getting it done both on offense and defense. If we put it together for 40 minutes, I think we’re going to be a tough matchup for a lot of teams on our schedule.”

Stanford might not even be the best team the Aggies face this year. The team heads to Hartford, Conn., to take on top-ranked UConn on Dec. 5.

In the meantime, the Aggies have a nine-day break before resuming their quest for their first victory. Their next game is a home contest against San Jose State on Nov. 26 at 4:45 p.m.


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