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Friday, April 19, 2024

The Aggies suffer tough last-minute loss against the Gauchos in conference play

Following the loss, UC Davis closed the season with a big win against Long Beach State to secure a slot in the postseason quarterfinals

 

By CAROLYN (CARI) FENN — sports@theaggie.org

 

Despite a strong start by the UC Davis men’s basketball team against UC Santa Barbara at the University Credute Union Center, the Gauchos pulled ahead in the last few minutes to win the game 89-86. This is the fourth game at home this season that the Aggies have lost at home.

Following the altercation that occurred at the Aggies’ last game against the Gauchos, it was expected by many that the game was going to be a match-up to watch. With fans filling most of the seats in the stadium, everyone was eager to see if the Aggies could defeat the Gauchos, who are in first place in the Big West Conference.

The Aggies started the game off strong, obtaining a 10-point lead within the first eight minutes of the game. Despite holding a solid lead for the majority of the half though, the Aggies were not fully in control of the game, and the Gauchos made a gradual comeback throughout the first two quarters, going into halftime just one point behind the Aggies at 37-36. At this point, though UC Davis still clung onto the lead, the momentum had clearly shifted in UCSB’s favor. 

Some highlights of the first half by the Aggies include strong defensive plays. UC Davis  was able to keep UCSB second-year point guard Ajay Mitchell to zero points for the entire first half. Mitchell has averaged 15.9 points per game this season and is known for his strong shooting. But even with Mitchell shooting 0-5 from the field and 0-1 from the three-point line, the Gauchos held their own offensively, going on a 16-6 scoring run that kept them in the game. 

With such a tight game so close going into the second half, it was clear that the next 20 minutes were going to be an intense battle. 

To start the second half, the Gauchos gained a quick three-point lead — their first lead of the game. The Aggies responded with a 15-point run though, securing a comfortable 12-point lead against the Gauchos. 

Players coming in off of the bench at the start of the half were the leading contributors to the Aggies’ scoring run. Second-year guard Robby Beasley alone scored six of the 15 points with back-to-back three-pointers. Third-year guard Ade Adebayo also had a dunk that fired up the crowd.

This rally by UC Davis got the 2,113 fans packed inside the University Credit Union Center chanting and cheering throughout the arena. 

Despite the Aggies developing a generous lead, bringing the score to 52-40, the Gauchos made another comeback. The UC Davis defense was no longer able to hold back Mitchell and his teammates, and the Aggies’ lead evaporated in a matter of minutes. With just about eight minutes remaining in the match, the game was tied 61-61.

“When we got up by 12, that’s when you need to step on the throat and pull away, but we got rushed and we let them back in it,” UC Davis Head Coach Jim Les said.

In the last eight minutes of play, the Aggies’ scored 25 points. Most of these were by third-year guard Elijah Pepper, second-year guard Ty Johnson and Adebayo, who had 12, five and six points, respectively. 

But despite the Aggies’ best offensive efforts, their defense appeared to fall apart in the fourth quarter. UC Davis kept fouling Mitchell, giving him the opportunity to score seven points from free throws alone.

While the Aggies lost their lead earlier in the half, they were holding their own against the Gauchos, keeping the game to a one- or two-point difference in the final minutes of regulation. However, the increased number of fouls called against the Aggies, such as the ones called for Mitchell, ended up contributing to the loss.

With just a minute remaining, the Aggies took the lead back with a layup by Adebayo, making the score 81-82. This lead was short-lived though, as a  personal foul was called against Adebayo, giving Mitchell the chance to score two free throws, taking the lead for the Gauchos once again, 83-82. 

The lead went back and forth down to the last 20 seconds, when the Aggies were down by just two points, 85-83. They had just enough time to make a play, but, two personal fouls called on third-year guard Kane Milling sent the Gauchos’ two leading scorers of the night, Mitchell and fourth-year guard Josh Pierre-Louis, to the free-throw line. Combined for four points, they secured the lead 89-85 with just 12 seconds remaining.

UC Davis’s missed free throws and lackluster defense in the final minutes cost them the game, which ended with a score of 89-86.

“You can’t do that with a good team. It puts a lot of stress on your offense when you give up 89 points on your home floor,” Les said.

While defensive mistakes in the fourth quarter cost the Aggies the game, there were still players that had great performances throughout. Pepper not-so-shockingly had the most points scored on the team with 30, but Johnson and Adebayo were also strong offensive contributors,  adding 13 and 10 points, respectively.  

Even though this loss was a tough one for UC Davis players and fans, they still have a chance to do well in the postseason. Close losses and strong efforts against top Big West competitors prove that they can hang with the top teams in the conference. Though UCSB is ranked first in the conference and the Aggies are ranked seventh, the Aggies played a hard-fought battle against the Gauchos, never giving them a comfortable lead. If they are able to clean up the mistakes they made toward the end of the second half, they have a chance of making a long playoff run this season. 

“We have to execute and pay attention to details, and we have to learn how to play with a lead,” Les said postgame.

A few days later on March 4, UC Davis closed out the season with a win against Long Beach State at home. They defeated The Beach in a double-overtime thriller, 93-92. With the win, the Aggies secured the sixth seed in the Big West Conference and a slot in the quarterfinals. Up next, UC Davis will travel to Henderson, Nevada and play the third seed in the Big West postseason on March 9 at 8:30 p.m.

 

Written by:Carolyn (Cari) Fenn — sports@theaggie.org