Both the UC Davis men’s and women’s basketball squads are in high spirits as each heads into its final stretch of nonconference games.
The Aggie women, who recently improved to 3-4, seem ready as ever for their Big West schedule. But first, UCD travels to Los Angeles for the Women of Troy Classic this weekend.
Meanwhile, the Aggie men (2-6) are off to the World Vision Challenge in Utah. And UCD head coach Jim Les sees the tournament as a chance for his guys to shine — especially coming off of a 87-65 victory over Eastern Washington.
“To be honest, we’ve had a tough schedule,” Les said. “We played a number of games on the road: Oklahoma State, at Nevada and at Stanford. These guys have been battle-tested and I think this, and (Monday’s victory), is going to pay dividends down the road.”
The men begin their outing by facing a long-forgotten foe — the Salukis of Southern Illinois (6-2). The two teams have not met since Dec. 2, 1972, during UCD’s first showing in the World Vision Challenge.
The Aggies have a daunting task awaiting them on Day 2: trying to best host Utah State, which has won 42 straight home tournament games. Utah State is 4-2 this season and holds a .988 all-time winning percentage at its own event.
Whether or not the hosting hoops squad keeps its streak going, UCD hopes to finish the tournament on a good note in its final match. A Saturday contest against Nicholls State (1-5) also will serve as the last nonconference game for the local men.
“We’ve got a tough three-day, three-night tournament ahead of us,” Les said after Monday’s home victory. “But we’re building some great momentum. We expect to go there, play well, use the same formula and build some more momentum as we head into the Big West season.
“This is a game of momentum, confidence. Part of what we’ve been dealing with as a staff is just the mental aspect. Physically, they’re doing a lot of good things. They’re in great shape, and working hard. It’s the mental approach — closing games and refusing to lose — those are huge.”
There’s a similar morale build happening for the UCD women, who snapped a two-game losing streak with a 70-59 win over Santa Clara on Sunday.
The Aggies kick off their tournament Friday against the host squad, USC (3-5). This is the locals’ first ever meeting against the Pac-12 team.
USC’s leading scorer is Cassie Harberts, who averages 16.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. The Aggies, however, have their own scoring standout in sophomore Sydnee Fipps, who pours in 18.7 points and has amassed 18 steals this season.
The other challenge awaiting UCD is a match against CSU Bakersfield (2-9). The Roadrunners own an 8-2 series advantage over the Aggies, but the two squads did not meet last season.
“It will be a fun test for us,” said UCD coach Jennifer Gross. “They’re two very different opponents. We’re going to focus on playing as hard as we can and eliminating mistakes; continuing our improvement is key.”
In the week of preparation prior to the Aggies’ departure for Los Angeles, much of the roster put in extra hours in the gym, Gross added, demonstrating a desire to continue making strides.
The young UCD squad has shown an ability to be aggressive, as it ranks in the top 10 nationally in steals per game. This effort has been bolstered in large part by freshmen Aniya Baker and Molly Greubel.
“Our focus remains on us,” Gross said. “We had an important and positive week (of practice), and we’ve improved in a lot of areas — defensive rebounding in particular. We rewarded ourselves with the win at Santa Clara. I was really pleased with the progress we made.”
The women return for a home game against Washington on Dec. 28, followed by a game at Sacramento State on Dec. 30. The Aggies begin their Big West schedule at Pacific on Jan. 5.
The UCD men have their conference opener at UC Irvine on Dec. 29. The Aggie men then host Pacific at The Pavilion on the same day the women’s teams meet in Stockton.
“What we want to do is go to Utah and continue our momentum by getting some wins,” Les said. “That way, when we play Irvine at their place — who we know will be really good — (our) guys will feel good about what they’re doing, and how they’re playing.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at email@example.com or 530-747-8052.