Despite a tough end to the season, Evanne Turner earned a slot in the All-Big West First Team and Megan Norris was awarded Big West Freshman of the Year
By MARLON ROLON — email@example.com
A season of ups and downs for UC Davis Women’s Basketball came to an end in Henderson, Nevada after a lackluster performance during the quarterfinal round of the Big West Tournament. The Aggies fell to the No. 4 seed UC Santa Barbara, 70-36.
“It’s obviously really disappointing,” UC Davis Head Coach Jennifer Gross said, following the team’s playoff exit. “We felt like we were playing some great basketball last week going on the road and got two big wins. We were trying to carry that momentum into this week and obviously struggled today — struggled to make shots, struggled to get stops. It’s always hard when you don’t finish the season playing your best.”
The Aggies went into the tournament with momentum, winning seven of their last 10 games and earning the No. 3 seed in the tournament. A week prior to the quarterfinal loss, UC Davis even defeated UC Santa Barbara by a margin of 21 points on the road, splitting the season series 1-1. On the road, the Aggies also defeated the No. 2 seed Long Beach State during their regular season finale.
However, coming into this season, a lot of uncertainty swirled around the team; they were no longer the Big West favorites that dominated the conference over the course of the last four seasons. UC Davis Women’s Basketball was in a rebuilding stage after three star seniors who won four regular season championships, two Big West Tournament championships and two trips to the prestigious NCAA Tournament graduated last year.
“We brought a lot of new pieces this year, we obviously graduated some talented seniors that had been pretty successful and brought in Tess Sussman, Tova Sabel, Victoria Baker, Nya Epps and Megan Norris coming in from a redshirt year,” Gross said.
The Aggies struggled in the early portion of the season and it was evident that it would take time for the new players to gel with the rest of the team. The roughest stretch of the season came from Nov. 22 to Jan. 5; in that span, the Aggies lost seven of 10 games.
“We have this whole new group of people and you can’t snap your fingers and have them just gel and create chemistry,” Gross said about the adjustment.
As the season progressed though, the Aggies looked more comfortable playing with each other. This newly built chemistry led to the highest point in their season. From Jan. 19 through March 2, UC Davis won 10 of their last 13 games.
“It was all the off-court stuff, all the relationship building, all the team building that sort of led us to this final stretch where I felt like we had developed that tremendous chemistry and so that was really a prideful moment for me just seeing that showcase itself on the court,” said Gross.
However, when it mattered most, the Aggies had their worst outing of the season and only managed to score 36 points in the quarterfinal — the fewest points scored in a game in program history.
Big West Quarterfinals
The Aggies fell behind in the early stages of the game against a confident and physical UC Santa Barbara team. Especially inside the paint, UC Davis had a hard time guarding fourth-year center Ila Lane who dominated inside the key with 10 points in the first quarter.
“We went back to some things we hadn’t run as much lately and we’re just like ‘let’s throw everything at ‘em, let’s just throw everything we run for Ila [Lane] right away and see what they got and see what they do,’” UC Santa Barbara Head Coach Bonnie Henrickson said in the post-game interview.
UC Davis had a hard time generating points, only managing to make two of their 10 shots in the first eight minutes of the opening quarter. The Gauchos quickly jumped out to a 14-5 lead while the Aggies got into foul trouble early, committing seven fouls in the first quarter.
“We felt like going to Ila early deep in the paint, right in front of the rim where she could just pivot quickly and score,” Henrickson said of Lane’s impressive performance in the first quarter.
“[Lane] got great position and we made good on-time target passes and we shot 12 free throws in the first quarter.”
As the quarter progressed, the shooting woes continued for UC Davis as the Gauchos’ defensive pressure seemed to bother the Aggies. UCSB forced third-year guard Evanne Turner to go left; Turner has trouble shooting when opponents force her left, making her uncomfortable as she could not drain a shot.
After missing seven straight shots, the highlight of the quarter came at the 1:46 mark — Turner pulled up from the three-point line and splashed a three-pointer while getting the foul and earning a four-point play. UC Davis trailed UC Santa Barbara 28-10 at the end of the quarter.
The shooting slump followed the Aggies into the second quarter — shooting an abysmal 10% from the field — as the game started to get out of reach. Two minutes into the quarter, UC Davis scored their first point off of a free throw after redshirt first-year center Megan Norris was sent to the line.
The problems didn’t stop there for UC Davis; they got into foul trouble again, repeatedly sending the Gauchos to the free-throw line for easy baskets.
The last points that the Aggies would score in the second quarter came from third-year guard Grey Cambell at the 6:43 mark as she drove inside the paint for a layup, making it 33-13.
With six minutes remaining in the second quarter, UC Santa Barbara went on a 13-0 run that extended into the third quarter. This culminated in a nine-minute scoreless drought for UC Davis, who missed their next 12 shots. Third-year guard Tova Sabel finally ended the drought with a free-throw shot, but by this point, UCSB led by a wide margin of 32 points and the score was 46-14.
With 5:49 remaining in the third quarter, Sabel ignited a spark for the Aggies by scoring five straight points, including a three-point play, to make it 47-20.
However, UC Davis couldn’t catch a break as UC Santa Barbara’s third-year guard Alyssa Marin quickly responded by scoring five straight points for the Gauchos. A few plays later, Marin closed the quarter with a three-pointer to put UCSB ahead 57-24.
The Aggies had a difficult time guarding Marin, who was on fire, scoring 11 points in the third quarter alone. The struggles on both ends of the floor were evident — UC Davis shot 25% (4/16) from the field and 0% (0/2) from the three-point line in the third quarter. Meanwhile, the Gauchos were more efficient with their shots, shooting 38% (5/13) from inside the paint and 50% (3/6) from three.
With the game out of reach entering the fourth quarter, the Aggies enjoyed their highest scoring output with 12 points. Turner and Sabel each scored six points.
The Gauchos ended the game with an 8-0 run and eliminated UC Davis from the Big West Conference Tournament with a final score of 70-36.
In a win-or-go-home situation, UC Davis played their worst basketball of the season — fouls, turnovers and missed shots that they historically haven’t made derailed the team’s chances of advancing to the next stage of the tournament.
“It’s always disappointing when you invest so much and don’t come out on top,” Gross said, who was visibly disappointed post game.
Despite the loss, there were two bright spots on the team: Turner and Sabel, who scored 16 and 15 points, combining for 31 of the 36 points scored by the Aggies.
In the end, UC Davis shot 22.8% from the field (13/57) and 12.5% from three (2/16), way below their season averages of 41% and 31%, respectively. The Gauchos had better success, shooting 42.9% (21/49) and 54.5% (6/11). It’s worth noting that UCSB gained 22 points out of 27 attempts from the free-throw line, whereas UC Davis gained just eight points out of only 12 attempts.
Although the season concluded in a disappointing fashion, Gross and her team achieved more than what was expected this season. In the preseason polls, the Aggies were projected to finish in fifth place in the standings. However, they finished fourth and defeated two of the top three teams in the Big West in the regular season.
“We had our fair share of ups and downs, and through it all, they stuck together, and they played for each other, and they stayed super invested and bought in,” Gross said. “As coaches, that’s all you can really ask for, and so I just want to thank them for that and tell them again how proud I am despite the game today not going our way.”
Written by: Marlon Rolon — firstname.lastname@example.org