Aggies making a mark on program history
The UC Davis women’s basketball team dominated the competition this season and boasted a 24-5 2017-18 regular season record, and 14-2 in Big West Conference play, the losses simply bolstered the Aggies’ resolve and the season saw mostly an upward trajectory with a desire to build on the success of the previous season.
“It kind of started last year, there was a process of going through that loss in the tournament,” head coach Jennifer Gross said as she reflected on the season. “Being able to play in the postseason and have some success in the WNIT, seeing what we are capable of doing […], we said we’re coming back to this season on a mission.”
Motivated by the program’s first Division I tournament postseason win in 2016-17 and the loss to Washington State that ended the Aggies’ postseason run in the 2017 Women’s National Invitation Tournament, the team started the 2017-18 season with a rematch and a vengeance. The Aggies defeated the Huskies handily 91-76 on Nov. 11, 2017.
“With the opening game against Washington state, our players were just ultra-confident and very focused,” Gross said. “They performed on a big stage in front of a big crowd and I think that kind of set the tone for everything else that followed.”
From that point on, the women fulfilled the prophecy of clinching back-to-back Big West titles as expected, according to the Big West 2017-18 preseason coaches poll.
The Aggies’ momentum led them to rack up nine game winning streak, along the way winning three consecutive road games by a 25-point margin. Junior forward Morgan Bertsch and the Aggies stomped the Sacramento State Hornets in the Causeway Classic, with Bertsch scoring a career-high 29 points.
In the offensive department, Bertsch led the Aggies’ offensive charge with a 20 point per game average, a four-point increase from her 2016-17 15.9 ppg average, and shot 55 percent from the field.
Senior forward Pele Gianotti was the Aggies top defender and grabbed the most rebounds for the Aggies with a total of 164 and an average of six rebounds per game.
The University of Central Florida snapped the Aggies’ winning streak, grabbing their first loss and bringing their record to nine wins and one loss.
After that, the Aggies and Gross made it to the championship game in the Fordham Holiday Classic, finally losing in the championship round to Fordham.
This brought them to the first matchup of Big West Conference play on Jan. 4, where they took down the UC Irvine Anteaters 76-67. After that, the Aggies continued to dominate the Big West Conference and built a perfect conference record of eight wins and zero losses.
The Aggies were only shaken up on a road game in Northridge on Feb. 3, losing their first conference game to the Matadors 71-75 in overtime. Despite leading the Big West Conference up to this point, it took this loss for the women to step up the caliber of their play and mentally set aside their impressive record.
“I think we had been just a little complacent up to that game; we knew we were winning, and we were still playing hard,” senior guard Dani Nafekh said as she recalled the loss to Northridge. “But people were bringing their best games at us, and we weren’t giving our best, since then I think we’ve just played a lot more cohesively and come together a lot more.”
Having a winning streak snapped is not always a good thing, but Gross saw the silver lining in the loss to Northridge.
“I think we responded really well to that loss,” Gross said. “Having to regroup and look within and say O.K., where are we and what can we do to continue on our path.”
This loss did not hinder the Aggies for long; they continued on their path and bounced back with a win against Cal Poly in which the Aggie defense held the Mustangs to a field goal percentage of 36 percent. Bertsch’s 26 points combined with the team’s solid offensive performance gave them enough to sneak past Cal Poly 85-77. This game also moved Bertsch into third place on UC Davis’ all time scoring list.
Then came a shot at revenge against Northridge, this time at home. The Aggies’ steady defense held CSUN to a field goal percentage of 36 percent, and defeated the Matadors 72-46.
The Aggies clinched the Big West Conference on Feb. 24 at home — this was a huge goal for the team and they are fired up.
“We’re going to take some time and feel really awesome about what we’ve done,” Nafekh said. “But we know it’s not the final goal and we’re going to come back to practice ready to win some more games and win the tournament.”
Bertsch achieved a new career-high with 34 points in the Aggies’ win against Cal State Fullerton on March 1.
The Aggies wrapped up the final regular season game with a loss at UC Riverside 62-76 on Saturday.
After the postseason is all set and done, Gross’ Aggies will be losing key players to graduation: Pele Gianotti, Dani Nafekh, Rachel Nagel and Marley Anderson. However, Gross understands that with new players comes new opportunities.
Gross spoke to the academic success and component of the team.
“When we recruit players here, we’re looking for the whole package, the basketball player, the character and the academics,” Gross said. “We have great starting material with this team, they’re motivated in everything that they do, but it is very tough to do what these ladies do.”
The team’s Big West Conference record is 14-2 heading into postseason play, with a total record of 25-4.
Written by: Bobby John — firstname.lastname@example.org