Teams: UC Davis at Cal Poly; at UC Santa Barbara
Records: Aggies 6-14 (1-4); Mustangs 8-11 (4-2); Gauchos 12-6 (3-2)
Who to watch:
Corey Hawkins has been on a tear over the past several games. He has shot over 50 percent from the field in each of the last six games, averaging almost 21 points per game. Meanwhile the Mustangs have held their past two opponents to under 43 percent from the field. This matchup may prove to be Hawkins’ toughest challenge of the new year.
The UC Davis Aggies are coming off of a poor showing at home, losing two of their last three against Big West opponents.
UC Davis put together promising stretches in each game, including a nice run to bring them close against Hawai’i, but were unable to close out well in both of their losses. The Aggies’ defense allowed UC Riverside to shoot 55.1 percent from the field, despite the Highlanders averaging just 42.7 percent as a team on the season.
Head coach Jim Les attempted to remedy the problem, placing sophomore forward Justin Dueck and sophomore guard Olivier-Paul Betu in the starting lineup.
“Defense has been an area that we needed to address,” Les said.
The move worked for a game as the Aggies forced Cal State Fullerton to shoot under 40 percent. Against Hawai’i, however, the defense once again fell behind and allowed their opponents to absolutely dominate them to the tune of 58.2 percent shooting and 90 points.
The Aggies’ biggest struggles have come on the interior, something not helped by the recent news that senior forward Josh Ritchart will be sitting the rest of the season due to injury.
UC Davis was outrebounded by eight boards in the game and gave up 42 points to the starting frontcourt of Hawai’i. They lack an interior presence on defense as junior forward Clint Bozner has proven to be foul prone and junior forward Iggy Nujic lacks the tools to play defensive anchor. The Aggies have often resorted to having 205-pound freshman forward Georgi Funtarov play in the middle, despite not having the size or skill set to guard opposing big men.
The good news for the Aggies is that Cal Poly is equally lacking in size. Their leading rebounder, senior forward Chris Eversley, stands at 6’7” and seems to prefer shooting from beyond the arc to banging down low. Only one player on the roster who plays significant minutes is taller than 6’7” and he grabs just 3.6 rebounds per game.
This game should prove to be a way for UC Davis to get back to their stingy defense as they are facing an opponent that makes just 42.9 percent of their shots, including 33.8 percent from beyond the arc.
The Mustangs are led in points by Eversley who shoots 41.2 percent, while turning the ball over 1.4 times per game. They also score only 64.9 points per game, which ranks a solid 314 out of 351 teams playing NCAA Division I basketball.
The Aggies, meanwhile, have been able to pour in 72.4 points per game while shooting 45.2 percent from the field.
If UC Davis can recapture some of the defensive magic that they had against Cal State Fullerton while maintaining their consistent offensive performance, they should be able to escape with a win against their hated rival Cal Poly.
Of all of the flaws that UC Davis can take advantage of against Cal Poly, namely inside scoring and efficiency, UC Santa Barbara shares none.
The Gauchos are led by junior forward Alan Williams who leads the team both in points, at 22.9, and rebounds, at 10.6 per game.
Williams has also managed to be efficient, shooting 55.3 percent from the field while making over 70 percent of his 7.2 free throws per game.
Of course, to complete the package, the junior also averages an outstanding 2.4 blocks and 1.3 steals per game.
Williams is just one key part of a UC Santa Barbara squad which shoots 47.5 percent from the floor as a team. They also are No. 16 in all of Division I basketball in assists, with the team combining for over 16 per game.
Simply put, the Aggies will have to play a nearly perfect game to beat the Gauchos. UC Santa Barbara is strong where UC Davis is weak and their high powered offense will likely have no problem running through the Aggies.
The main hope that UC Davis has is to capitalize on the strategy that Cal State Fullerton recently used to beat the Gauchos. The Titans took and made a lot of three-pointers while forcing UC Santa Barbara into shooting only 33 percent from downtown on 21 attempts.
The Aggies may be able to hang with the Gauchos if they run-and-gun better than their opponent, as they seem to have little hope in hanging tough in a slowed down, half court game.
— Ryan Reed