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Monday, October 18, 2021

UC Davis takes on Long Beach State in ESPN matchup

For the third year in a row, the UC Davis men’s basketball team will take its talents to ESPN as it faces off against Long Beach State on Saturday. After a 13-point loss against UC Santa Barbara on ESPN2 a season ago, the Aggies are looking to show off their newfound, winning ways to the rest of the country.

Head coach Jim Les spoke about his desire to show the rest of the country UC Davis basketball, stating, “You know, I’ve said it all along, there’s excellence all over this campus, all over this community — and what [better] to showcase than to have ESPNU not only come in and talk about our basketball program and these guys who are working their tail off, but to talk about our university, talk about our community and put it out there on a national stage.”

UC Davis men’s basketball is in a far better place than it was when it graced national television a year ago. The Aggies have started the year off with an 11-3 record, including a win in their first Big West game of the year against CSU Northridge. The team has been led by senior guard Corey Hawkins who is 24th in the country in points per game. Hawkins also leads the team in rebounds, assists and steals.

Much of the success for the Aggies has been driven by a trio of big-men who were unavailable a season ago. Senior forward Josh Ritchart, who missed the season with injury, has added 12.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting 42.5 percent from beyond the arc. Junior forwards Josh Fox and J.T. Adenrele have also added consistent rebounding and energy, although the 6-foot-6 Fox has struggled somewhat against bigger opponents.

The Aggies are shooting 50.4 percent from the field as a team, sixth best in the country, while leading the country in three-point shooting percentage at 43.6 percent. The team has shown to be dominant offensively through its first 14 games. The team is also performing admirably in regards to defense throughout the season, forcing Division I opponents to shoot 42 percent from the field and 35 percent from beyond the arc.

In their three losses this season, however, the Aggies have struggled tremendously. They allowed over 75 points in each game, while allowing their opponents to shoot over 48 percent from the field and 45.7 percent from beyond the arc. UC Davis has also struggled on the boards, pulling in a meager 31.6 rebounds per game. Despite more frontcourt depth than a season ago, the Aggies continue to be undersized as they rely on Fox and the 6-foot-7 Adenrele. Sophomore center Neil Monson has helped, pulling down 3.4 rebounds in 13.5 minutes, but he has barely cracked the rotation.

The good news for Aggie fans is that Long Beach State does not offer a significant mismatch on the boards, with its leading rebounder standing at a stout 6-foot-7. Likewise, the 49ers’ 33.1 rebounds per game ranks only 257th in the nation and they sport a 6-10 record, including 0-9 on the road.

Still, the 49ers are a much tougher team than their record and 43.3 percent shooting average offer. Four of the team’s losses have come against ranked opponents and they have beaten teams like Xavier who are 11-4 with games against the likes of No. 19 Seton Hall. The Aggies will be facing a battle-tested team who are ready to get to work after a difficult early schedule.

Senior guard Avery Johnson noted that the upcoming game on ESPN will be prepared for just like any other, saying, “It’s going to be more of the same and just making sure we continue to improve as a team and play hard.”

Still, the guard’s excitement about the big game showed.

“It’s going to bring a lot of people [and] a lot of school spirit — the place is gonna be rocking, so hopefully we’ll bring a win to Davis,” he said.

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