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Monday, September 26, 2022

UC Davis’ Big West reign ends in semifinals

UC Davis championship run comes to an end, marking the end of a dynasty 

By MARLON ROLON — sports@theaggie.org

A rollercoaster of a season for UC Davis Women’s Basketball came to an end in overtime during the semifinal round of the Big West Tournament against UC Irvine 75-84. 

“When you pour yourself into something and you put your heart and soul into it, it’s devastating when you don’t come out on top; we’re just a bit heartbroken today,” UC Davis  Head Coach Jennifer Gross said following their playoff exit. 

The sixth-seeded Aggies went into the tournament to face third seeded Long Beach State, an opponent they had lost to a week prior. 

After having split the season series 1-1, UC Davis had a tall mountain to climb against Big West Defensive Player of the Year Maddi Utti and the high pressure defense that formulates around the Beach. 

Quarterfinals

The Aggies were ready for the relentless pressure — their championship experience proved to be too much for Long Beach, beating them 55-45 in the quarterfinals of the tournament. 

The game was a defensive battle for the most part, but UC Davis started the game strong, knowing what to expect from the Beach. Aggies’ sophomore guard Evanne Turner was pivotal in the first half, scoring 12 points —  all from the three-point line. Her confidence to shoot the ball was evident, as she shot 4-6 from three in the first two quarters. 

Although the Aggies led by seven in the first half, Long Beach forced them to 12 turnovers with their full court pressure. However, the Davis defense held their own, holding the Beach to shoot 0-9 from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.

Long Beach would not go down without a fight. They cut the deficit to two, 36-34 mid-way in the third quarter. That wouldn’t last long, as fourth-year Sage Stobbart hit a big three to stop momentum. 

In the fourth quarter, Turner proved to be too much, hitting a three-pointer from the corner to pull away. Cierra Hall closed the show by hitting her free throws, beating Long Beach 55-45 to advance to the semi-final. Turner finished with 19 points and Hall followed with 14 points. 

“I’m really proud of our team. It was a hard-fought win against a very good team, and it took 40 minutes of intense focused defense and composure against a lot of pressure,” Gross said after the game.

Semi-finals 

With little time to celebrate, UC Davis faced off against No. 2 UC Irvine. The Anteaters defeated No. 7 Cal State Fullerton 80-68 earlier in the tournament. During the regular season, Irvine defeated UC Davis, 76-59; in their second meeting, UC Davis beat the Anteaters, 66-51. However, the rivalry goes beyond this season. Previously, in 2019, the Aggies beat UC Irvine in the championship game to advance to the NCAA Tournament. 

The game was as advertised — it came down to the last play of regulation with the game on the line. Turner got a good look, shot a three at the buzzer, the ball bounced off the rim forcing overtime as UC Irvine would eventually pull away with the win, 84-75. 

How it happened 

The Aggies committed five turnovers during the opening quarter, but Hall would keep the game close in the first quarter, scoring six points to keep the Aggies within striking distance down 10-13. 

In the second quarter, UC Davis was held scoreless for the first two minutes, and once again, it was standout senior Hall who scored the much needed basket to end the scoreless drought. Irvine would immediately respond with two straight three’s from first-year Nikki Tom and graduate student Naomi Hunt, making it 21-15.

The Aggies were having trouble shooting from long range the entire second quarter — the defensive pressure from Irvine made them uncomfortable. The Anteaters held UC Davis to 12.5% shooting from three. The strategy was obvious: force the Aggies to commit turnovers and contain Turner from getting open looks from the three point line. UC Irvine led 31-22 at halftime while getting 14 points from the bench. 

UC Davis came out of the half looking like a different team. Turner made eight points, including two three’s in two minutes. After UC Irvine responded with a layup, Lena Svanholm for the Aggies made a three to cut the deficit back down to five only for UCI to hit a three a play later, making it 43-35. 

Being down by eight with 2:45 left in the third, it was Cierra Hall time. Hall scored five points in one minute igniting a 7-0 run. After a made free throw by Irvine, Svanholm closed the quarter with a huge three putting the Aggies up by one, 47-46. The momentum swung. UC Davis caught fire, shooting 80% from the three-point line throughout the third quarter. 

The fourth quarter was a slugfest as both teams displayed high intensity after trading buckets and following several lead exchanges through mid-quarter, the Aggies led 59-54. UCI’s redshirt first-year Kayla Williams tied it with five straight points. 

A few plays later, Hall drove to the basket for a layup getting tangled in the process connecting on a three-point play to put the Aggies up 64-61. Stobbart fouled Hunt with 31 seconds remaining, but Hunt missed her first free throw and made the second. UC Davis called a timeout with possession and were on the cusp of playing for their third-straight championship appearance.

However, the Anteaters never stopped believing. Hall looked for Turner off an inbound pass, Turner was double teamed and lost possession of the ball leading Williams to drive it into the paint to tie the game at 64 with 16 seconds left. 

“We were trying to get the ball to Evanne who’s a great free throw shooter; credit to Irvine; they made a good play. We lost the handle on it, and they came down on it and got a bucket,” Gross said. 

With one last shot, Turner got a great look from beyond the arc and failed to convert the go ahead win at the buzzer. The Aggies would go on to lose in overtime, 75-84. 

“I was really proud of how we competed today,” Gross said. “We had a shot to win it, credit [to] UC Irvine they played a really good game, they played hard, both teams wanted it, it just came down to one possession.”

Turner finished with 22 points, Hall ended her career with a double-double, 20 points and 14 rebounds, Stobbart matched her fellow fourth-year with a double-double, 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Being so close to the championship game, Hall, Stobbart and Konrad left their hearts on the court and gave tremendous effort in their final game for UC Davis. Tears were shed as they hugged each other. This was the end of a dynasty for UC Davis. 

“To see them come in here and help raise the bar for our program is unbelievable. Those are three special individuals, and I’m so proud of them and their careers,” Gross said. 

The trio won four straight regular season championships together, two Big West Tournament championships and played in two NCAA tournaments. Their careers are decorated with personal accolades such as Defensive Player of the Year, Conference Player of the Year, Big West Tournament MVP and All Conference Team shared between them.

Gross had high praise of her star player Hall following the post game press conference.

“Cierra Hall who’s won everything you could win and been to the [NCAA] tournament, won championships, she still came back,” Gross said. “It wasn’t like she had something to prove, she was the Big West Defensive Player of the Year, the Big West Player of the Year, she won four championships. She still came back; she came back for her team, she came back for her teammates to leave a legacy to help them learn what it takes to teach the younger ones. That’s what being an Aggie is all about, that’s what Aggie pride is.“

Season in Review

UC Davis had an up and down season, having consistency issues for the most part. They finished the season with a record of 15-13, 8-8 in conference play. Four of their games were canceled due to COVID-19. 

The Aggies were competitive all season, and they lost seven games in the final minutes of regulation. On Nov. 13, Saint Mary’s beat UC Davis in the final seconds of play by a score of 52-50. Then on Jan. 8, the Aggies lost a close one to UC San Diego by three, 56-59. They then traveled to Fullerton on Jan 27., losing by four, 65-69. Then against UC Riverside on Feb. 1, they led the majority of the game only to collapse in the final minute losing by two, 59-61. 

The Aggies then traveled to Hawaii on Feb. 3, in a game where they led the entire game they fell apart in the fourth quarter and lost by seven points, 50-57. On Feb. 26, UC Davis went up against UC Santa Barbara, in the final possession of the game down three, the Aggies would fail to convert on a three pointer to ultimately lose by three, 62-65. The last loss of the regular season came against Long Beach on March 3, a game they led the majority of the fourth quarter but could not hold onto the lead; they collapsed again and would go on to lose by five, 60-65.

“This season was full of adversity, sometimes when there’s losing and some adversity, teams can start to fall apart. We as coaches have seen that where teams start pointing fingers and placing blame and that just never happened with this group; this group stayed together,” Gross said.

The high points came on Dec. 1, against powerhouse Oregon. The Aggies upset the Ducks on the road, securing a 64-57 historic win, and snapping a 44-game non-conference home win streak. Another major win came against Gonzaga at home on Dec. 19. Being down 19 points, UC Davis stormed back to upset Gonzaga, 69-66, for the first time in program history. On Jan. 29, UC Davis would steal a convincing win on the road against top ranked Long Beach State, 68-58. The last major victory of the regular season came on Feb. 12 against UC Irvine, another top ranked team, beating them 66-51. 

UC Davis enters the offseason without their championship core — Hall, Stobbart, Konrad — who are all graduating fourth-years. This marks the end of an era and the start of a new one.  

“They’re going to be tough to replace, we’re definitely going to miss them,” Gross said.

Written by: Marlon Rolon — sports@theaggie.org

 

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