UC Davis sophomore hoopster Corey Hawkins has quietly put together his case to become the first Aggie ever to win the Big West Conference Player of the Year award.
And his performance on Saturday was yet another exhibit to add to the list of evidence.
Hawkins scored 31 points on 9-for-12 shooting and grabbed six rebounds to help push UCD past Cal State Northridge, 73-61, and to a winning record in league play for the first time this season.
The Aggies improved to 7-6 against Big West opponents and 11-13 overall.
Hawkins proved to be the difference in the game as the Matadors (13-14, 4-11) gave the locals all they could handle and were frequently on the verge of pulling ahead. Hawkins routinely turned them back, hitting six 3-pointers and getting to the rim almost at will.
“(Northridge) likes to pressure you,” Hawkins said afterward. “That kind of creates a lot of wide-open lanes. (It’s) just me moving without the ball and being ready and in position to shoot.”
Hawkins was complemented by Ryan Sypkens, who had 11 points and five rebounds, and J.T. Adenrele, who added 13 and three. The trio combined to make 10 of the team’s 11 treys on the night and were the reason the Aggies were able to shoot 54.3 percent from the floor against an inspired Matador defense.
“(Saturday), Corey obviously (was) very efficient and (had) an unbelievable offensive effort,” said UCD head coach Jim Les. “We have a number of guys who can do that.”
The scoring from the Aggies’ Big Three proved critical as UCD coughed the ball up 20 times and allowed Northridge to score 24 points off the turnovers.
After going up by as many as 15 early in the second half, the Aggies began to stall, and the Matadors started to work their way back into the game.
They cut UCD’s lead all the way to 53-51 before Hawkins stopped them dead in their tracks with a tightly contested jumper followed by a long 3-pointer.
Moments later, Sypkens added a trey of his own to put the Aggies back in the driver’s seat down the stretch.
In the first half, Northridge kept the game close until the seven-minute mark. Ryan Howley broke a 25-25 tie with a layup inside before Hawkins connected on a pair of long balls and big Clint Bozner battered his way through the Matadors’ defense for a layup.
The buckets were part of a 14-1 run that put the team up 39-26 at intermission.
Howley recorded six points, three assists and 12 rebounds and Paolo Mancasola had five points and six assists.
Adenrele got the game off to a roaring start with his first career 3-pointer when a mistake in Northridge’s perimeter rotation left him wide open at the top of the key. He hesitated for a moment before launching a shot that put the Aggies up 3-0.
“That might’ve just been sheer luck,” Adenrele said as Hawkins and Bozner laughed next to him. “But it was nice to hit one, I guess.”
The team will have a few days to rest before traveling to Long Beach State for a Wednesday night contest. LBSU currently sits atop the Big West, but with UCD on a two-game winning streak and playing its best basketball of the year, Les believes the Aggies have a solid shot at pulling off the upset.
“We’ve got a big task ahead of us,” he said. “It’s the league leader in Long Beach and they’re playing well. They play well at home. But we also feel like we’re playing well.”
Notes: UCD forward Josh Ritchart returned from an ankle injury. He came off the bench for two points and one rebound. … The Aggies continued to rebound better, outboarding Northridge, 32-25.
— Reach Will Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org