Photo Credits: JUSTIN HAN / AGGIE. UC Davis guard Katie Toole (13,middle) goes up for a layup during the match against the University of Hawaii on Saturday, Jan 11, 2020.
Aggies extend streak with overwhelming victory in Conference home-opener
Coming off a historic 2018-2019 season in which the Aggies only lost a single game in conference play, head coach Jennifer Gross and co. are yearning to reciprocate last year’s success. Although the team lost numerous starters and seniors from last season, and is now battling through some injuries at the moment, the Aggies have displayed admirable resilience. Dating back to the end of 2017, the women’s basketball team is undefeated in home conference play, a streak that was extended with a come-from-behind win against Hawaii in the team’s inaugural 2020 conference matchup.
Saturday’s contest started off tumultuously for the Aggies, with Hawaii leading 13-7 at the conclusion of the first quarter. Gross placed an emphasis on defense and rebounding heading into the game, and it began to manifest in the second period, as the Aggies fought back to tie the game 15-15 behind smooth passing from redshirt junior point guard Mackenzie Trpcic.
Following the tie, Hawaii called a timeout to cool down the Aggies; albeit, to no avail. Out of the timeout, freshman guard Evanne Turner, sophomore guard Mikaila Sanders and then Trpcic nailed consecutive threes, sending the Pavilion into a frenzy.
Not only did the Aggies explode for 20 points in the second frame, but they also held Hawaii to just four points — tied for second-fewest total in all of women’s college basketball since the NCAAW returned to quarter-play in 2015. That meant UC Davis led 27-17 entering the halftime break.
UC Davis burst out of the tunnel post-halftime still red hot, with lethal scorer and redshirt-senior guard Katie Toole burying a three and sinking a few other close range shots. It was Sanders, though, who stole the show in the third, splashing in three consecutive deep balls on her own and pushing her total to five on the afternoon. The third quarter ended with the Aggies sitting on a comfortable 49-28 lead.
Although some substitutions led to some minor runs by the Rainbow Wahine, the Aggies shut down any hope of a miraculous comeback behind a clutch corner three from Toole, and lights-out free throw shooting courtesy of redshirt-sophomore forward Kayla Konrad. The scoreboard read 62-49 when the final buzzer sounded, solidifying the Aggies’ 23rd consecutive home court conference victory.
Toole contributed a team-high 21 points — her fourth game this year with 20 or more. Also stuffing the statsheet was junior forward Cierra Hall, who recorded her fifth double-digit rebounding game of the season by grabbing 11 boards — including four on the offensive end.
Although the season has not been perfect, the now 6-9 Aggies are looking to kick things into gear with the heart of the season upcoming. Gross lauded her team’s mental fortitude.
“After the loss on Thursday, we really took a lot of accountability and the rebounding was an area where we were really unhappy with ourselves,” said Gross following Saturday’s game. “I think players, coaches, everybody. [We] turned it around today and had one of our best rebounding performances. I think we brought a lot of focus and urgency to the boards. I think we rebounded at about 90 percent which is very very good. So I’m really pleased at how we bounced back at something we struggled with the other day and turn that into a strength today.”
The Aggies outscored the Wahine 14-2 in second chance points, largely because of their aggressive rebounding on both ends of the floor. Being strong on the boards was also an important factor of limiting Hawaii’s scoring, especially in the middle quarters. Being able to lock-in defensively helped propel UC Davis into the lead and allowed them to stay ahead when the final buzzer sounded.
“That’s been a main point of ours, is consistent level of play and building habits everyday to perform the way that we want to,” Gross explained. “So I think the team gets it and why it’s so important because if you don’t have the strong habits to rely on, you never know what’s going to happen. So now it’s just about showing up everyday, committing to getting better, and working really hard to build those strong habits.”
The scrappy UC Davis squad will return numerous players from injury before the season ends, including a crucial veteran piece in senior forward Nina Bessolo, who is week-to-week with a thumb injury, according to Gross. If the Aggies can manage to maintain a winning edge even without key starters in the rotation, it should instill confidence in a UC Davis team that’s still finding its stride.
“We could have easily gotten down on ourselves,” Gross said. “And I thought, ‘Its a new thing about this team that we’re staying positive and not focusing on the outcome and just focusing on our growth.’ And if we continue to do that I think we’re gonna be very dangerous in this next month or so.”
Gross is optimistic her team will catch fire at the end of the season with good reasoning, and Konrad backs up that sentiment.
“We come out here everyday and we know it’s going to be a dogfight, so I’m just bringing everything I can,” Konrad said. “I think we’re going up from here and I’m really excited. Everyone’s really bought in […] We have a lot of really good young players, a lot of players stepping up with two of our best players out right now. So everyone’s just for the team and everyone’s going to step and do whatever they need to do.”
The Aggies will continue their dive into the Big West slate with a battle against Long Beach on Thursday night. UC Davis will hope to garner a 24th-straight conference home win before heading back on the road for a two-game stretch.
Written by: AJ Seymour — firstname.lastname@example.org