UC Davis stays perfect at home with victory
Despite being in the peak of the midterm season here at UC Davis, students arrived in strong numbers to fill up the student section and cheer on their Aggies. A now 11-0 record at home has proven to many that this team, like its school, is all about perfection.
It was also Salute to the Soldiers Night at the Pavilion, which increased the stakes for the Aggies as they hoped to win in honor of those who serve their country.
Coming into this past Thursday night game against the CSU Fullerton Titans, the Aggies had an impressive 18-4 record and sat atop the Big West with 8-1 in conference games. Their southern California opponent has struggled this season with some tough losses leading to a 1-7 record in the conference.
Many were hoping to see senior guard Corey Hawkins take the court after a two-game absence due to injury. This was not the case as he stood on the sideline cheering on his team. Without Hawkins on the court, it remained to be seen where the offense would come from.
The Titans, with a Big West low 1-7 record, were intent on beating the Aggies in the Pavilion. Despite low 3-point percentages, the team knew they had strength in their big men and were determined on dominating in the paint. Ranked third for the season with a rebound margin at +1.7, it was clear that crashing the boards was high on their agenda.
In the first half, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Aggies were in control. Scoring on all cylinders and taking advantage of poor ball control by the Titans, the Aggies never lost the lead once they obtained it. Although the objective of the Titans to dominate the paint was being fulfilled, they had no answer to the outside shooting by UC Davis. Senior guard Tyler Les was confident from beyond the arc as he hit 3-3 from downtown in the first half. Les moved around the court with great fluidity in attempts to get an open shot. His strong performance spread the court and allowed for aggressiveness in the paint by senior forward Josh Ritchart who ate up 6 rebounds in the first period of play. Being first in the NCAA in 3-point percentage with a remarkable 46 percent, the Aggies are well aware of how important the three ball has been for their successes.
Coming into the second half, UC Davis beamed with confidence as they were met with a mighty cheer from the crowd. Still, the blowout many were hoping for was not happening anytime soon. After fighting back, the Titans were within two points of tying the game at the 10 minute mark. Despite this setback, the Aggies stayed resilient as a solid defensive output combined with a quick offensive presence helped them regain a comfortable lead.
It quickly became clear to the Titans that defeat was imminent. Desperation ensued but the emotionally tough Aggies made sure no comeback was made.
In spite of Hawkins’s absence, the remaining players stepped up and proved that this is a team and not a one-man show. One player in particular, junior forward Josh Fox, played a tremendous game throughout and was pivotal to the win. With perfect shooting from the field, Fox was a major nuisance for the Titans. Along with six field goals made out of six attempted, he picked up a total of six boards and drew several fouls that led to six free throw points. Despite being number 21 on the team, Fox has a new found respect for lucky number six.
After the game, Fox discussed the key to the win and how the team was able to keep control without Hawkins.
“Everyone fights, we’re a team, people step up.There’s just so many people on this team, and we work together so cohesively,” Fox said.
Les also discussed how the Salute to Soldiers Night affected the team’s emotions towards the game.
“We have tremendous respect for [the soldiers present]. They’re the reason we get to do what we love to do,” said Les. “We haven’t forgotten, even for a minute, the sacrifices those guys have made and it was an honor to have them here and an honor to win for them tonight. We really appreciate everything they do for us.”
It was a tough gut-it-out win for the Aggies. Despite not playing their best basketball, it was their ability to work together and never give up that solidified their victory. Hawkins showed much pride from the bench as his eagerness grew to start playing with his team again.
When asked about what to take away from the night’s win, head coach Jim Les noted their ability to rise to the challenge in tough games.
“We didn’t play our best basketball, but we just grinded one out. This group has a unique knack to make plays when they have to. For us to go through these three games without Corey and come away with three wins and have numerous guys step up in his absence is a great credit to this team,” Coach Les said.
In regards to Hawkins’s continued absence, he responded with confidence.
“He’s getting better. He’s going through 24-7 rehab. It was great, we sat down with the medical staff. They thought if we could get him a couple more days rest, it would put him at a better position for next week, and be able to finish the year healthy. We expect him to be back shortly. When that is, remains to be seen,”said Coach Les.
After the win, the team stays perfect at home with an 11-0 record. The Aggies will take a short road trip down to Long Beach State before returning home to seek redemption for an early season loss against Hawai’i.
Photo by Ciera Pasturel