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Davis, California

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

UC Davis rallies back to defeat Sacramento State

Elijah Pepper and Christian Anigwe combine for 46 points in an impressive performance

By GABRIEL CARABALLO — sports@theaggie.org

The Causeway Cup is a yearly rivalry game between the UC Davis Aggies and Sacramento State Hornets basketball teams. In men’s basketball, Sacramento State holds the lead in overall victories, 8-6. This year, UC Davis hosted Sacramento State at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Nov. 22. After a competitive match, UC Davis cut Sacramento State’s overall lead to one game. 

 The referee tossed the ball in the center of the Sacramento Kings’ crowned-purple logo and the Hornets claimed the tip-off. With one pass from Hornets fourth-year center Callum McRae, fourth-year guard Zach Chappell took the first shot of the game. Chappell hit a long three-pointer and gave Sacramento State an early 3-0 lead. He would go on to lead the Hornets in scoring with 19 points by the end of the game. 

Shortly after Chappell’s three, on defense, the Aggies caused a shot-clock turnover. Then, third-year guard Elijah Pepper drove down the court, pulled up from mid-range and hit a shot for the Aggies’ first bucket of the game. 

As each team swapped shot for shot, the Hornets took control of the first half. The Hornets quickly started to expand their lead, with second-year guard Austin Patterson hitting a second three-pointer with about 13 minutes left in the half, putting the Hornets up 15-11. Then, after a missed layup for the Aggies, the Hornets hit another three to go up 18-11. This was their fourth in six attempts from beyond the arc, in part due to UC Davis’s lackadaisical perimeter defense, and an onslaught from deep by Sacramento State was the result. 

The Hornets shot 70% from three-point range, backed by precise shooting from Patterson, who shot 4-4 from beyond the line in the first half, and third-year forward Akol Mawein, who tallied 11 points. With three minutes left in the half, 39-27, UC Davis took charge.

Following an emphatic offensive rebound by the fourth-year forward, Christian Anigwe laid the ball in for his 13th point. The Aggies started to chip away at the Hornets’ lead, drawing fouls to get to the free-throw line twice before the end of the half. By halftime, Sacramento State’s lead was cut to seven points at 40-33. 

Anigwe led both teams in points in the first half with 13 and helped the Aggies stay in contention. Meanwhile, Patterson led Sacramento State with 12 points. The Hornets shot 52% from the field, while the Aggies shot 40%. 

But when the second half started, the Aggies looked like a new team. Pepper carried over the momentum from the end of the first half and hit an incredulous three-point shot. However, Sacramento State kept drawing fouls and getting easy buckets in the paint. A few minutes into the second half, UC Davis found themselves back down by double digits. 

With 14 minutes left in the game, the Aggies changed their game plan. UC Davis Head Coach Jim Les decided to pull out the full-court press, which caused a five-turnover stretch for the Hornets. 

“It ramped up our intensity and aggressiveness and shortened the clock for them,” Les said. 

With chemistry developed over the past three years, Pepper and Anigwe began to play “two-on-two,” as Les would say. 

The pair used a seemingly unstoppable pick-and-roll to score two straight buckets and cut the lead to six. Then, the team went on a seven-point run. Third-year guard Kane Milling scored five of those points and hit the go-ahead three to give UC Davis their first lead of the game at 54-53. Sacramento State reclaimed the lead with foul shots and a lay-up from McRae to go up 56-57 but Milling would answer back with another deep three-pointer, which gave the Aggies a 59-57 lead. 

Both teams traded baskets and the Hornets tied up the game. However, Pepper and Anigwe used their pick-and-roll to get Anigwe an open three to retake the lead 67-64. 

“We’ve been working on that pick-and-roll all three years, and I knew I’d get those wide-open jump shots,” Anigwe said.

After retaking the lead, the Aggies maintained it for the rest of the game. With under five minutes left, and after a converted hook shot from Pepper, the Aggies were up by five points. The Hornets made a crucial turnover and allowed UC Davis to secure the game. Milling took up that opportunity, pulled up for a three-pointer and — swish — hit the shot. Up 74-66 with under two minutes left, Sacramento State’s only option was to foul. UC Davis went to the line for seven more points and the Hornets would score five more points to finish regulation. The final score was 82-71. 

The Aggies came back from a 12-point deficit to beat Sacramento State and secure the Causeway Cup. 

“It’s really big for us because of our rivalry with Sac State. We lost pretty badly last year and wanted to come out here with fire,” Anigwe said. 

UC Davis came out with that fire in the pivotal second half. The Aggies outscored the Hornets 49 to 31, outrebounded Sacramento State 18 to 12 and caused nine turnovers in the second half. 

“I can’t tell you exactly, but I thought we were cool and soft on defense. I challenged them to ramp up their aggressiveness together,” Les said about his half-time pep talk.

Pepper scored 19 points in the second half and led the game in total points with 24. Anigwe had 22 points for the Aggies, Milling had 14 and second-year Ty Johnson had 11. Four players scoring double digits against Sacramento State speaks to the Aggies’ depth as a team. 

“It’s a strength of our team; it doesn’t necessarily peep its head in the first half or the first 10 minutes of the second half. But those last 10 minutes and the collective effort of being able to play 10 guys will wear you down,” Les said. 

After the Causeway Cup victory, the Aggies headed to Milwaukee for the Cream City Classic, a four-team tournament with the UC Davis Aggies, Milwaukee Panthers, Boston University Terriers and Southern Eastern Missouri State University Redhawks. In the first game of the tournament, UC Davis fell to the Panthers, 85-87. The Aggies will return home on Dec. 1 to play the University of Pacific Tigers.

Written by: Gabriel Caraballo — sports@theaggie.org