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Sunday, August 1, 2021

Aggies fall in first Division I postseason game

The Aggies first taste of postseason play came and went faster than sophomore guard Darius Graham can break a full-court press. After a strong first half performance, UC Davis’ lack of rebounding and porous defense finally caught up with them as they fell to Stanford in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).

UC Davis men’s basketball headed down to Anaheim, Calif. for the Big West Tournament and were ousted in the semifinals by a feisty Hawai’i team that ultimately fell to UC Irvine in the Championship. As a consolation prize for finishing the regular season with the best record in the Big West, the Aggies were selected to play Stanford in the first round of the NIT in Palo Alto.

Vegas Insider listed UC Davis as an 8.5 point underdog against Stanford, a Pac-12 team that had quality wins over major conference opponents including then No. 9 Texas. The Cardinal is led by senior guard Chasson Randle who averages 18.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. As a team, Stanford shoots a poor 43.4 percent from the field, but makes almost 39 percent of its shots from beyond the arc. The team also draws a lot of free throws, led by Randle.

Senior guard Corey Hawkins has made the Aggies offense run smoothly throughout the season, scoring over 20 points per game on an efficient 50 percent from the field and 49 percent from beyond the arc. The only other UC Davis player to average double figure points is senior forward Josh Ritchart, partially because of the fact that no player besides Hawkins averages more than 28 minutes per game. The game also featured a showdown between Hawkins and his godfather, Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins.

With a significant number of Aggies fans populating Stanford’s Maple Pavilion, UC Davis took the floor to face their Goliath. The team showed clear nerves to begin the game, shooting just 33 percent in the first 13 minutes while missing their first five shots from three point land, finding themselves down by 12 points.

The Aggies, however, stampeded back on a 15-3 run behind phenomenal play by Hawkins. The senior guard scored 10 straight points for UC Davis including their first two threes of the game. Hawkins, senior guard Tyler Les and sophomore guard Brynton Lemar each added one more from beyond the arc before the half ended with UC Davis down 36-37.

Randle finished the first half with eight points and sophomore guard Marcus Allen added eight on 4-4 shooting for the Cardinal. Hawkins finished the first half with 21 points to go along with four rebounds and a steal, while no other Aggie had more than three points.

The Aggies of the first 13 minutes came out from the locker room at halftime, allowing Stanford to go on a 6-18 run in the first eight minutes of the second half. Hawkins missed several makeable shots by his standards and the team was outrebounded 10-2. Allen hit five of his next seven shots and finished the game with 22 points, including several layups off of easy drives to the rim.

The Aggies were able to make a miniature run, bringing the game to within 10, but they could not close the gap and fell 64 to 77. Hawkins finished with 34 points and five rebounds, making 10 of 22 shots. The senior guard also took on a significant amount of the defensive duties on Randle, showcasing his versatility.

UC Davis was hurt mainly by its inability to rebound or get consistent offensive production from any playing beyond their star guard. The rebounding margin was relatively even at halftime, but the Aggies were outrebounded 11 to 23 in the second. No UC Davis player had more than one field goal made until senior guard Avery Johnson hit a three with just over eight minutes left in the game. Johnson ended the game as the second leading scorer with seven. The team shot 37.3 percent from the field in the game, while allowing their opponent to shoot 56.4 percent.

The matchup in Palo Alto marked the last game for four UC Davis seniors, but the program has been greatly impacted by the year that the team had. Coach Les was excited about what the future holds, saying “This team put UC Davis basketball on the map. A lot of people said it couldn’t be done and this group, especially our seniors, brought great hard work, great competitiveness and great character to this program. They did a lot of things that people thought were impossible.”

Hawkins added, “Hopefully just raise the bar for this program. When I come back, I hope to see nothing but years like this.” Coach Les and the Aggies will now head into the offseason with an outstanding season behind them and a goal of always improving ahead.

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