The holidays are a time for thanksgiving and reflection.
After an 80-76 loss to visiting Idaho before only 627 fans at The Pavilion, the basketball men of UC Davis found their cornucopia empty — but judging from Aggie coach Jim Les’ take on what happened Saturday, one can bet there will be plenty of reflection.
Blowing a 15-point first-half lead, what had been a stingy UCD defense early turned porous late as the locals (3-5) fell to their third consecutive defeat.
A disappointed Les spoke to the media afterward …
“I’ve been on our guys for while now about you are what your habits are,” the third-year UCD coach explained. “Our practice habits need to get better. We need to be a player-coached team.
“In other words, when I’m delivering messages about our defensive intensity and execution, I need our leaders to carry that message on to the practice floor and then bring it (to games), especially later in the game — the last eight minutes when we have the lead — to get stops.”
For the second straight outing, the Aggies watched their advantage evaporate down the stretch.
Behind junior guard Connor Hill’s career-high 29 points, the Vandals overcame a poor 33 percent first half from the floor to hit 18-of-37 shots (48 percent) after intermission, turning the afternoon game in their favor.
Those first 20 minutes gave Aggie faithful false hope that their favorites were on the right defensive track.
UCD had six fast breaks off steals, including a nifty Avery Johnson theft and a wicked-good assist to Darius Graham.
Graham and Company held Idaho’s Glen Dean to no points and no assists before intermission. Dean had been averaging 11 points per game and was the team leader in dish-outs.
When the red-hot Josh Ritchart, averaging 18 a game coming in, hit back-to-back free throws with 1:28 to go before halftime, it put the Aggies up, 43-28, and the Aggie Band-uh had the small crowd at a fever pitch.
The Vandals (4-4) looked like they were headed for 0-5 on the road.
But for Idaho, the second 20 minutes were no small potatoes.
Ryan Sypken’s jumper kept UCD ahead, 49-37, but twice the Vandals closed the gap to three before an Iggy Nujic jumper off a Corey Hawkins assist put the Aggies up by seven (64-57). By then, however, those pesky final eight minutes of which Les talked were near.
Idaho’s third four-point play of the season (thanks to Dean’s bomb and free throw) resulted in that long-forgotten 15-point lead shrinking to 69-67.
Two baskets by Hill and two by Dean were sandwiched around Hawkins’ lay-in and, suddenly, Idaho led 78-71.
Still, UCD came back …
Hawkins, who finished with a team-high 18 points, hit a couple of twisting scoop shots and Brynton Lemar canned a charity toss.
With 1:18 to go, the Aggies forced two bad Vandal shots, but a Hawkins miss and his reach-in foul sent Dean to the free-throw line. The senior transfer from Utah made both shots and the locals were reduced to a meaningless trey attempt — which missed — at the buzzer.
Dean scored all 18 of his points in the second half. Hill’s career game included 7-of-9 from beyond the arc.
Stephen Madison, who last game became the 14th 1,000-point man in Idaho history, scored 16 points. The 6-foot-5 Portland, Ore., product added seven assists.
Ritchart — the owner of 14 points at the half — finished with 16. He took only two shots after the break.
Sacramento High redshirt freshman Graham had 13 points and tied Hawkins with a team-high seven assists.
“We let their three really good offensive players (Dean, Hill and Madison) get going … and once you get guys going (allowing easy buckets), they’re going to make some tough ones, too,” Les said.
“I’m very disappointed, and until our defensive effort and execution changes, the results are going to remain the same.”
Les says the busy early schedule hasn’t given his team a lot of time to make adjustments in practice. Case in point: UCD flies to the Pacific Northwest for another tough test at Seattle (3-3) on Monday at 7 p.m.
Notes: Idaho coach Don Verlin, a Roseville native, earned an early technical, screaming “foul” when center Paulin Mpawe blew a dunk at 18:11. … The Aggies are expected to be golden from 3-point range, but on Saturday they went 7-of-21, missing 7-of-8 in the second half. Last season, they hit 40.5 percent on treys. … Idaho is now 4-0 all-time against UCD. There was some good news in Aggie Nation: Linda and Mike Robles celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary on Friday. Mike, who is the school’s athletics communications director, also was at the mic on Saturday (giving normal Voice of the Aggies Larry Swanson some holiday vacation). … UCD is next home on Saturday for a 7 p.m. tip-off against Nevada. The Vandals, who were 12-18 last season, are a preseason pick to finish second in the Western Athletic Conference.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.