UC Davis loses to No. 7 Stanford

Rael Hanus / Aggie

Aggies outplayed in season opener

The UC Davis women’s basketball team couldn’t seem to find its groove last Wednesday. The Aggies lost their first regular season game, 71-43, on the road against No. 7 Stanford.

It was a tough matchup against the perennial Pac-12 power. The Cardinal has made it to the sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament each year since 2008 under 31-year Head Coach Tara VanDerveer.

“[Stanford is] really long and tough to score on, they have great length at every single position,” said UC Davis Head Coach Jennifer Gross.

The Aggie offense struggled to generate scoring opportunities, only hitting 22.6 percent of their shots from the court. The Cardinal shot at a higher and more consistent clip, at 42.6 percent.

Senior forward Morgan Bertsch put the game’s first points on the board with a three-pointer. The first quarter was the only one where the Aggies seemed to be on even footing with the Cardinal. UC Davis shot 29.4 percent from the field, and the Cardinal shot 35.3 percent.

Stanford’s interior defense closed off lanes for UC Davis to drive to the basket. Facing limited space and aggressive guarding in the key, the Aggies only scored four points in the paint compared to the Cardinal’s 12.

The Cardinal picked up the pace in the second quarter. Stanford sophomore guard Kiana Williams racked up 14 points, three assists and shot 62.5 percent from the field in the first half. As a team, Stanford raised its output to 42.9 percent-shooting and logged nine steals to finish out the half.

The Cardinal defense forced the Aggies to take more difficult shots. UC Davis dipped to 15.4 percent shooting, only converting two of its 13 shot attempts. The Cardinal didn’t hesitate to double team Bertsch, all but shutting down the Aggies’ top producer on offense.

“I think it’s no secret that we like to play through Morgan,” Gross said. “And they were just surrounding her, there’s lots of long arms to pass over, when we did get shots we just didn’t knock them down.”

Gross and the Aggies were aware that teams would try to shut down Bertsch.

“We worked on that quite a bit, we’re anticipating that’s going to happen,” Gross said. “When people throw a double we’re going to be able to find shooters and find cutters.”

The Aggies finished the second quarter without scoring any points in the paint and trailed 36-24.

In the second half, the Cardinal continued to shoot well while the Aggies struggled.  

Stanford senior forward Alanna Smith, considered the 23rd-best player in women’s college basketball by ESPN’s preseason rankings, led the way for the Cardinal. She averaged 13.5 points per game, seven rebounds per game and 1.8 blocks per game in the 2017-18 season.

The versatile preseason All-Pac-12 team pick didn’t leave one category on the stat sheet blank. In 15 minutes of playing time, Smith shot 57 percent from the field, logged 16 points, an assist, block, steal and rebound.

The Cardinal also dominated the Aggies on the boards as well, as Stanford collected 36 defensive and 18 offensive rebounds.

Despite the subpar shooting performance, Gross saw the positive side of competing against one of the top teams in the country.

Gross noted she was pleased with the recent Walla Walla Community College transfer, junior guard Cierra McKeown and her ability to shoot from beyond the arc. McKeown drained both of her three-point attempts in the first half when Gross decided the team needed an offensive surge.

Losing three starters to graduation last season meant that Gross had to change the lineup this season.

“We’re still trying to figure out with our chemistry, what lineups work well together,” Gross said.

Senior guard Kourtney Eaton played 35 minutes and, according to Gross, added pressure to lead the team.

“Kourtney had a lot on her shoulders tonight, just playing the amount of minutes that she did and trying to keep us together.”

A new season means new players are brought into the fold and returning players inherit increased responsibility. As the team works out the kinks, Gross will be searching for a lineup with good chemistry.

The Aggies will travel up the pacific northwest to play Portland State, a team the Aggies beat last year, 79-67, on Friday and Washington State on Sunday. The Aggies will return to Davis for a home game against Southern Utah on Nov 23.

Written by: Bobby John — sports@theaggie.org