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Davis, California

Monday, May 27, 2024

UC Davis overcomes adversity late in the game to secure conference win against UC Riverside

On her birthday, Sabel turns in a big fourth-quarter performance to propel the Aggies to victory


By MARLON ROLON — sports@theaggie.org


On Tuesday night, UCR (3-18 in conference play and 5-18 overall), who are last place in the Big West conference, came into the University Credit Union Center in search of a much-needed win against the UC Davis women’s basketball team. 

The Highlanders built an early lead and set the tone against the Aggies, who were out of rhythm with sloppy turnovers early in the game. However, the home team clawed their way back; UC Davis rallied back late in the game with stellar shooting from third-year guard Tova Sabel. The Aggies won 73-64, which improved their record to 7-6 in conference play and 11-12 overall. 

“I was really pleased with the way that we sort of overcame a lot of adversity throughout the game and found a way to win it,” said UC Davis women’s Head Coach Jennifer Gross. 

In the first quarter, UCR netted two quick three-pointers to start the game and took an 8-2 lead. During this span, UC Davis failed to convert open looks and turned the ball over due to miscommunication. 

As things settled late in the first quarter, third-year guard Evanne Turner knocked a pair of three-pointers down that put the Aggies up by one, 12-11. With just under two minutes left, UCR went back up with a pair of baskets in the paint. However, second-year point guard Sydney Burns closed out the quarter with a jumper that chipped the deficit to 15-14. 

“We felt like we couldn’t get our flow in the first half; we weren’t getting as much ball movement. And I thought we weren’t knocking down shots; we felt like we were a little bit stagnant.”

The back-and-forth action translated into the second quarter, but redshirt third-year guard Matehya Bryant shined for the Aggies with a 10-point outburst inside the paint.

In the final four minutes of the first half, UCR took a three-point lead after a pair of free throws, but UC Davis fought back, going on an eight-point run that saw them take a 32-27 lead. 

Just as things were looking good for the home team, second-year forward Mazatlan Harris lost control of the ball and attempted to dive to regain control of possession but fell hard and was accidentally stepped on. Harris, in tears, was slow to get up, but the play was kept alive. UCR took advantage of the situation, going on an eight-point run to close the half. 

The University Credit Union Center was stunned as they saw the Highlanders regain the lead in a span of one minute. 

“It felt like we were playing well, and then, within a minute, we had an eight-point swing,” Gross said regarding the final sequence of the first half. 

In the first half, UC Davis shot just 38% (11-29) from the field and 27% (3-11) from outside the paint, which is highly unusual from the team that leads the Big West in three-pointers made (7.8 per game). Moreover, Turner — the Big West’s leading scorer — was held to just eight points in the first two quarters.

“[Bryant] had a tremendous game, she had a really good first half,” Gross said of Bryant’s scoring abilities. “We were focusing on trying to slow her down in the second half defensively.”

Despite the Aggies’ changes going into the second half, Highlanders continued shooting the ball well into the third quarter, beginning with a 7-0 run to go up by as many as 10 points, 44-34. Just as it seemed like Riverside was getting ready to run away with the lead, everything changed in an instant. 

Graduate student guard Tess Sussman hit a three-point dagger that gave life to the arena, leading the crowd to burst into cheers. A few plays later, the Aggies went on a 9-0 run — Burns was feeling hot as she drained two three-pointers and Turner chipped in with a three of her own. 

UC Davis tied the game at 46, and the arena was buzzing. 

“Sometimes all it takes is one spark, and this particular one happened to be a three-point shot,” Gross said regarding the 9-0 run. “It’s contagious in a way you see the ball going in once and you just get a little more confidence.”

“We picked each other up, we made some big plays. We sort of gained a little bit of swagger after that point, and we did a nice job of executing from then on.”

Riverside wouldn’t give up, and they responded by immediately going on a 6-2 run in the final minute of the third quarter. They once again regained the lead, 52-47.

However, with under 30 seconds left, the Aggies answered back with a three-pointer from Sabel which cut the deficit to two points. 

The contest was tight heading into the fourth quarter, but Sabel appeared to flip a switch — she opened the quarter with a quick layup to even the score. Then, Sussman hit two free throws to put the Aggies up by two. 

From here on out, Sabel and Turner turned on the jets, scoring the last 14 points for UC Davis, ultimately winning the game 73-64. With Bryant less of a factor as the defense tightened up inside the paint, the Highlanders had trouble scoring in the second half.

The fourth quarter was highlighted by Sabel, who scored nine points, and Turner, who added seven points. 

“It’s her birthday, so she was ready for a big day,” Gross said of Sabel’s offensive performance. “She never got the opportunity to get going early, but we’ve seen in many games that she’s really capable. She’s a tough matchup; she could play inside, and she did a really good job down the stretch putting us up.”

According to Gross, UC Davis’s offense helped the team take the win. Turner led the charge with 18 points, Sabel added 16 points, Sussman had 14 points and Burns scored 12 points. 

“To have four people in double figures is big for us — It means that different people are stepping up,” Gross said. 

A few days later on Feb. 11, UC Davis lost to UC Santa Barbara 77-64 at the University Credit Union Center. The Aggies will hit the road to Southern California to face off against Cal State Northridge on Feb. 15 and come back home to host UC Irvine on Feb. 18.


Written by: Marlon Rolon — sports@theaggie.org