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Saturday, March 2, 2024

UC Davis women’s basketball looks to repeat as Big West champions

The Aggies defeated Cal State East Bay in the opening exhibition of the season and now look to get rolling in non-conference play  

 

By MARLON ROLON — sports@theaggie.org

 

UC Davis’ Bria Shine and Sage Stobbart combined for 31 points to lead the Aggies past Cal State East Bay, 62-53 in an exhibition to open the season. It was the first time that fans were in attendance at the University Credit Union Center in Davis since the 2019-20 season.

“I think today kind of gave us some liveliness to the gym because last year, obviously we were lacking that, and it was super nice to just have some fans back in here and have some extra noise other than just our team,” Stobbart said after the game.

The Aggies were off to a slow start trailing 22 to 18 during the first quarter. After a long offseason Davis seemed to be out of rhythm as they were missing shots going 6-17 in field goal attempts, shooting 35% in the first quarter. Having five new players on the team for the Aggies is going to take some time for the players to mesh together as it was evident during the opening quarter.

“I think we’re still getting in the swing of things and just learning how to play with each other and with new players, but I think as a team, just getting stops on defense and limiting our turnovers is going to be key for us, and then we’re a really strong offensive team,” Stobbart said. “We have a lot of skill on our team and we just need to utilize all of our weapons.”

During the second quarter, the Pioneers from East Bay awakened a sleeping giant. UC Davis outscored East Bay 22-4 and shot 53% from the paint while shooting 40% from the three-point line. Additionally, UC Davis bullied the Pioneers on defense, as the reigning defensive player of the year Stobbart had three blocks inside the paint. Her defensive presence in the paint held East Bay to just four points in the entire second quarter.

The third quarter was more competitive with the Pioneers being aggressive, although UCD managed to outscore them heading into the fourth quarter.

UC Davis head coach Jennifer Gross pulled out her starters in the fourth quarter and provided playing experience to the freshmen on the team. For that reason, Cal State East Bay took advantage of the inexperience of the new freshmen players for the Aggies. However, their effort wasn’t enough as the Aggies came out victorious.

“We were really excited,” Gross said. “I think it was kind of a mix of a little bit of nervousness, a few jitters but more than anything just really looking forward to getting back to competing again.”

Three players finished in double figures for Davis with Shine leading the way with 17 points, Stobbart adding 14 points and Evanne Turner finishing with 12 points.

East Bay’s Mina Turner finished with a game high 22 points, the only player on the team to finish with double figures, but her outstanding effort wasn’t enough against the defending champions.

 

The journey to repeat begins

Winning the Big West Championship in 2020 and making an appearance in the NCAA tournament, the UC Davis women’s basketball team is favored to repeat as they look to claim their sixth straight regular season title in the Big West Conference and go back to the NCAA Tournament.

“We’ve always strived to get better every year, and having those accomplishments in the previous years just shows us how good we can be, and every year we’re just trying to get better and achieve those things again and again but improve while we’re doing it,” Stobbart said.

This season will be the first with fans in attendance since 2019-20, as the pandemic peaked during that time, barring fans from games. The once-empty arenas became stagnant during games, especially without the energy of the crowd that once electrified players. Surely, playing in front of fans was a surreal experience.

“Just the energy from the crowd, just seeing familiar faces, seeing people that really care about our team and have really missed being here — there’s nothing like that,” Gross said. “It’s going to be awesome so I hope the excitement for this team grows and grows, and we continue to get more people in here and provide more energy for this group.”

As the University Credit Union Center prepares for fans to fill the seats in the arena, the fans are in for a treat with the current roster. The Aggies have veteran star players who are expected to carry the load down the stretch as they prepare for a deep run.

Those veterans include the likes of 2021 Big West Player of the Year Cierra Hall at the forward position, star center Stobbart, guard Evanne Turner and power forward Kayla Konrad. Additionally, the Aggies have a new generation of players who are talented with a bright future ahead. They are learning from veterans who won the conference championship with a berth to the NCAA tournament.

Hall, who won Player of the Year in the Big West Conference, averaged 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds last season while making the All-Big West first team and earning the MVP award in the conference tournament.

Stobbart, last season’s defensive player of the year, averaged 10.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 2.68 blocks per game, earning her place in the All-Big West first team, all-tournament team and all-defensive team.

Turner, a key player on offense, averaged 11.7 ppg and 3.7 rpg last season. Turner is a fantastic finisher at the rim and dangerous from behind the three-point line. Her relentless scoring abilities helped Davis secure the conference title last year. Turner earned a place in the Big West all-tournament team during the 2021 season. As for Konrad, her efforts earned her a place among the Big West all-defensive team, averaging 9.6 ppg and 4.0 rpg.

These veteran players are the foundation of the team who rose to prominence by leading the Aggies to a conference championship and an NCAA tournament berth again. These are the type of players who can change the culture of an entire program with their leadership, hard work and love for the game. The legacy that they’ll leave behind will enrich the basketball program in Davis for years to come.

“I think they have players like [Cierra] Hall and Kayla Konrad and Sage Stobbart to look to say, ‘Hey, this is how we do things in our program,’” Gross said in reference to the new players on the team.

“We’ve been successful because we come to practice with a great attitude, ready to work hard everyday,” Gross said on the importance of her veteran players giving back to the game of basketball by sharing their knowledge and elements of their game to the younger prospects on the team. “It’s fun to see those older players grab a younger player at practice and explain something and show them something, and so I think that’s what culture is about. It’s about leaving a legacy for the younger ones, and we have a really great group of veterans that’s doing that.”

A recent poll that involved votes from the media and coaches around the Big West Conference picked the Aggies to finish atop of the standings by the end of the season. These expectations can produce pressure, but championship teams thrive off pressure and always find ways to win.

The women’s basketball team has a tough road ahead as they embark on their quest to repeat as back-to-back champions. They open the regular season non-conference schedule on Nov. 9 against Academy of Art in Davis, then host Saint Mary’s on Nov. 13. The Aggies follow up with their first road game of the season on Nov. 18 as they take on San Francisco. Subsequently, Davis will travel to the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento to play against their crosstown rival, Sacramento State Hornets on Nov. 23.

The team will go back home to host Weber State at the University Credit Union Center and then get to measure their talent as they travel to Oregon to take on the Ducks on Dec. 1.On Dec. 4, Washington State rolls into town to play Davis at the University Credit Union Center. The last three opponents before UCD plays against their Big West counterparts are against Stanislaus State in Davis Dec. 13, at Stanford on Dec. 15, and finally against Gonzaga on Dec. 19.

“That’s why we scheduled those games because we have a veteran group. We are excited about the potential of this group but you need games like that to see where you’re at and to test yourself, and we have a team that is not going to back down from anybody. We’re going to be ready to compete no matter if that’s a conference opponent or if it’s a top 10 team on their home court,” Gross said regarding the schedule.

The schedule will then transition against Big West opponents as UC Davis faces UC Riverside (Dec. 28) to open conference play. Hawaii makes the long road trip to play the reigning champions at the University Credit Union Center (Jan. 1). UC Davis will then travel to play against UC Irvine (Jan. 6) and UC San Diego (Jan. 8) before coming back home to host CSU Bakersfield (Jan. 13), Cal Poly (Jan. 15), UC Santa Barbara (Jan. 20) and finally CSU Northridge (Jan. 22).

Following the four consecutive home games, they will travel to Fullerton, Calif., to take on CSU Fullerton (Jan. 27) and Long Beach State (Jan. 29). UC Riverside then comes into town (Feb. 1), and following that game, Davis travels to play Hawaii (Feb. 3). The team comes home to host two consecutive home games against UC San Diego (Feb. 10) and UC Irvine (Feb. 12), but then the schedule gets rocky as the Aggies will be on the road for four consecutive games against Cal Poly (Feb. 17), CSU Bakersfield (Feb. 19), CSU Northridge (Feb. 24) and UC Santa Barbara (Feb. 26). Finally, UC Davis hosts the last two games to close out the season against Long Beach State (Mar. 3) and Cal State Fullerton (Mar. 5).

Gross was hopeful and optimistic against the level of opposition they face this season with her veteran players providing valuable experience, great work ethic and championship pedigree within the locker room. Gross takes pride in her team’s preparation during practices with players testing each other in an effort to get the best out of one another.

“As a group, we just want to push each other everyday to be our best and if we can do that in practice, then we’re preparing ourselves as best we can to get better everyday and also to be in a position at the end of March where we have a chance to win another championship,” Gross said.

Gross enters the 11th season as the head coach of the Aggies women’s basketball team. With Gross at the helm, UC Davis has been perennial favorites to make a deep run in the postseason. Gross’ success has translated onto her players as Davis has won five straight regular season championships.

“That’s why I love coaching this team because it’s a group that really has no fear and is ready when we tip,” Gross said.

 

Written by: Marlon Rolon — sports@theaggie.org

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