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Friday, September 24, 2021

UC Davis Basketball sends seniors out with a bang

NATALIE SKLOVSKAYA / AGGIE

Aggies complete perfect season at home with 68-59 victory over Hawai’i

In their final home game at The Pavilion on Thursday night, the Aggies honored senior guards Brynton Lemar, Darius Graham, Lawrence White and senior forwards J.T. Adenrele and Georgi Funtarov with pre- and post-game ceremonies. After the festivities, the UC Davis men’s basketball team went to work against last season’s Big West champion, the University of Hawai’i. After a close first half and a slight lead by Hawai’i in the second, the Aggies rode the hot shooting of Lemar down the stretch to a 68-59 victory.

The Aggies’ first possession of the game resulted in a thundering alley oop slam by White, who was assisted by Lemar. This set the tone for UC Davis’ offensive possessions, which were marked by a barrage of three-pointers by Lemar and a series of dunks by both White and junior forward Chima Moneke. Despite the Aggies’ prolific offense, Hawai’i was able to remain close in the first half due to multiple defensive breakdowns by UC Davis.

In the second half, the Aggies’ three-point lead quickly dwindled as they came out of the halftime break. The Rainbow Warriors capitalized on the Aggies’ sluggish play and built a 40-34 lead. With Hawai’i threatening to break the game open, the Aggies flipped a switch and began to play like the well-rounded team UC Davis fans have come to expect in home game showdowns. With 7:30 remaining in the second half, Lemar caught fire, hitting three of his four three-point shots to lead the comeback. Graham added a three-pointer of his own to put the Aggies ahead 63-54.

NATALIE SKLOVSKAYA / AGGIE

In the final homestand, the Aggies leaned heavily on their senior leadership, but it was Moneke who put the nail in the coffin with a resounding putback slam that blew the roof off of The Pavilion. Head coach Jim Les credits the Aggies’ playmaking abilities to their athleticism.

“We want to be aggressive using that athleticism defensively,” Les said. “That defense gets us out in the open floor where [Moneke and White] can make some spectacular plays.”

In the end the Aggies’ strong second half play was enough to earn them the 68-59 victory over the Rainbow Warriors.

The Aggies ended the year with a perfect 11-0 home record. Adenrele, who was part of the first Aggie squad to complete the milestone two seasons ago, was impressed with this year’s team.

“Just to go undefeated the first season was impressive for us, [but] to come back and do it again and be a part of that, was really special,” Adenrele said.

Les fittingly attributed the win to his group of senior players.

“We’ve been led by our seniors all year, and for them to be able to accomplish this on senior night with a win and go out undefeated at home and have a chance on Saturday to play for a Big West title is really special,” Les said.

After the game, Les and the Aggie seniors addressed the crowd. All five players credited their success at UC Davis to their families and the support of the Aggie community.

NATALIE SKLOVSKAYA / AGGIE

“There are so many people that play a part in the building of a successful basketball program, from game day operations to our equipment, medical staff, media relations; our fans have been unbelievable,” Les said. “Everybody’s pulling in the right direction. We’re working hard but we’re having a lot of fun doing it and that’s what Aggie basketball should be about.”

The win set up a showdown for the Big West title between UC Davis and UC Irvine two days later, where UC Irvine took the regular season crown after blowing out UC Davis 79-49. The Aggies will open the Big West tournament on Thursday, March 9 as the second seed.

 

Written by: Rowan O’Connell-Gates — sports@theaggie.org

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