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Monday, June 10, 2024

Aggies play UC Irvine in Big West Tournament opener

UC Davis faces uphill battle with star forward Sydnee Fipps out

After an up-and-down season, the Big West Conference Tournament is finally here for the UC Davis women’s basketball team. The Aggies, who secured a No. 5 seed in their conference, will face off against the No. 8 seeded UC Irvine on Tuesday, March 10 for their first game.

UC Davis struggled to begin the Big West regular season, going 3-3 in their first six games. A switch flipped, however, and the Aggies ran off with five straight victories, two of which came in overtime. Over that stretch, UC Davis won by an average of over nine points per game while scoring over 70 in all but one. The streak led the team to a second place ranking in their conference.

The season, however, did not end there and the Aggies ultimately lost in their final five games leading up to the tournament. Three of the losses came by five points or less, but the Aggies also suffered a 16 point beating by Cal Poly at home.

UC Davis also suffered another defeat when they played UC Riverside as their All-Big West Conference First Team member, senior forward Sydnee Fipps, was lost due to a knee injury. Fipps is now unlikely to return for the end of the season tournament, effectively ending her career as an Aggie.

Fipps was instrumental in the Aggies’ success this season, leading the team with 15.6 points per game while adding 4.8 rebounds and an unmatched fiery intensity. UC Davis also lost junior guard Molly Greubel to injury three games into the season, meaning that two fifths of the original starting lineup is now sidelined.

Without Fipps, the Aggies will need to rely on junior forward Alyson Doherty to shoulder the offensive load. Doherty was second on the team with 13.4 points per game while grabbing 6.5 rebounds and blocking over one shot per game. Against UC Irvine in the regular season finale, Doherty scored a career high 27 points on 14 shots. The third year was named to the All-Big West Conference Second Team. Senior guard Kelsey Harris, who is currently making 45.7 percent of her almost six attempts from beyond the arc per game, will also be an important factor offensively.

Additionally, the team has come to rely on two freshman guards, Rachel Nagel and Dani Nafekh, to fill the hole left by Greubel. The two played a combined 38.8 minutes per game in Big West competition. Nafekh was named to the Big West All-Freshman Team after averaging 4.1 points and 2.26 assists per game.

The first time that UC Davis faced off against UC Irvine, their tournament-opening competitor, the Aggies were able to finish with a 10 point victory from well-rounded scoring.  Nagel was fantastic, scoring a season high 15 points on nine shots while Doherty and Fipps each added 14. UC Davis was also able to make 10 out of 20 shots from beyond the arc, dwarfing the three made by the Anteaters.

The second time that the teams met, and the Aggies first game without Fipps in the last four years, ended in a nine point loss despite a heroic effort by Doherty. The two teams were neck-in-neck for much of the game, but a late run of eight straight points for UC Irvine sunk the Aggies hopes. UC Davis hit 26.3 percent of their threes in the game, a major factor in their loss.

In order to win in the first round, the Aggies will need to find consistent offense without the drive-and-kick abilities of Fipps. If the team is able to get Doherty going offensively and find shooters open looks, while playing with their normal defensive energy, the Aggies should be able to squeak through round one. This, however, will be a challenging matchup without their star.

The first game, against UC Irvine, will take place on Tuesday, March 10 at 6 p.m. If the Aggies advance, they will play either Cal Poly or Long Beach State on Wednesday, March 11 depending on the score of another first round matchup.


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