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Davis, California

Saturday, May 25, 2024

UC Davis loses second straight conference game

Elijah Pepper’s 27 points not enough for the Aggies to beat UC Irvine 


By MARLON ROLON — sports@theaggie.org


Despite strong offensive performances from third-year guard Elijah Pepper and second-year guard Ty Johnson, UC Davis lost last Thursday night’s contest against UC Irvine  (88-83) in conference play at the University Credit Union Center.

The Aggies started the game with a five-point run led by fourth-year forward Christian Anigwe, who scored inside the paint, and Johnson, who scored a three-pointer. UC Irvine, who has the top-ranked offense in the conference, traded baskets with the home team for the entire first half. 

UC Davis led by as many as six points in the half after going on another five-point run in the first half. Anigwe appeared once again on the score sheet, putting up a three-pointer, and second-year guard Leo DeBruhl hit two free throws to put the home team up 17-11. 

The Anteaters answered with a seven-point run and took the lead 18-17. The battle of the top-two ranked offenses did not disappoint. UC Davis stormed back with a seven-point run of their own and once again took the lead. 

UC Irvine would not give up though, hitting two three-pointers and a layup in an eight-point run, taking control of the game and leading 26-24. However, Aggies’ second-year forward Niko Rocak and third-year guard Kane Milling gave UC Davis the lead 28-26, but that was the last time the Aggies led.

In less than a minute, the Anteaters scored nine straight points, including seven straight points from third-year guard Dawson Baker. With three minutes and 34 seconds left in the half, UC Irvine led 35-28.

The half came to a close with UC Davis trailing 42-35. Pepper had 10 points and four assists while Anigwe had nine points. The Aggies shot 56% from beyond the three-point line, compared to UC Irvine, whose team shot 45% from the three-point line. However, the Aggies committed 11 turnovers while the Anteaters only had seven. In addition, the Aggies were outrebounded 14-13. UC Irvine’s bench also outplayed UC Davis’s 14-8 points. UC Davis also had trouble defending the paint, as the Anteaters easily scored 16 points, while the Aggies only scored six. 

The second half was similar to the end of the first half, as UC Irvine continued scoring and extended their lead to 12 points, 51-39.

Johnson kept the Aggies in the game, scoring 20 points in the second half, shooting 7-11 from the field and 5-6 from the free-throw line. Another Aggie who had a big half was Pepper, who scored 17 points late in the half. Midway through the half, a layup by Pepper cut the deficit to just one point. 

However, UC Irvine’s offense was too much to overcome; they led by as many as 16 points in the final minutes of regulation. Pepper scored back-to-back three-pointers in the final seconds of the game, but it was too late as the Anteaters grabbed a road win. 

Pepper finished with an impressive 27 points and seven assists, and his teammate Johnson finished with 25 points, while Anigwe had solid spurts throughout the game, scoring 13 points and grabbing five rebounds. Second-year center Bent Leuchten dominated the paint, adding 31 points in 19 minutes. 

In the end, UC Davis committed 17 turnovers which lead to 27 points for UC Irvine. Although the Aggies outrebounded the Anteaters 30-29, they were outplayed in the paint as UC Irvine scored 38 points, compared to UC Davis’s 22 points. 

With the loss, the Aggies fell to 7-7 overall and 0-2 in the Big West Conference, leaving them in 10th place in the league. 

After starting the season 6-2, and beating UC Berkeley for the first time in program history, UC Davis has lost four games in a row and is struggling defensively. They rank 11th in defense in the conference. However, the Aggies are the second top-ranked offense, with Pepper leading the Big West in scoring with 20 points per game and Johnson averaging 16.4 points, good for sixth place.

Since Manjon’s departure, Pepper has stepped up as the leader of the team. His statistics have improved from last season, during which he averaged 15.1 points per game. The addition of Johnson has also turned UC Davis into a scoring powerhouse in the Big West; however, their defense has regressed. Last season, the Aggies ranked fifth. There is still time for the Aggies to turn their season around, but they must come together as a group and give a better effort defensively to do so.

Pepper and the Aggies did get their first conference win of the season against ninth-place CSU Bakersfield, who are 1-3 in conference play, on Jan. 7 at the University Credit Union Center. Next, they will take on Cal State Northridge on the road on January 11th.

Written by: Marlon Rolon — sports@theaggie.org