Before Wednesday, Georgi Funtarov hadn’t seen his parents, Blagovest and Daniela, since last summer.
But with his folks in the stands Thursday at The Pavilion, the 20-year-old freshman from Sofia, Bulgaria recorded UC Davis’ second double-double of the season as the Aggie men’s basketball team cruised to an 85-73 victory over Cal Poly.
“The timing was perfect,” Funtarov said with a broad smile after scoring 17 points and collecting 10 rebounds in the important Big West Conference nod. “That was motivation — showing off for mom and dad.”
The win puts UCD (9-19, 4-9) a full game ahead of idle UC Riverside (8-19, 3-10) in the battle for the eighth — and final — conference tournament spot. The Aggies have three games left in the regular season, including Saturday’s 5 p.m. home matchup with UC Santa Barbara that will be televised on ESPN2.
“I was really proud of them,” Les told the media. “It was a little bit of a trap game with everybody talking about Saturday. It could have been easy for them to overlook this game.
“They took care of business. I loved their energy and enthusiasm, especially on the defensive end.”
UCD opened on an 8-2 run with defensive plays by Brynton Lemar and Avery Johnson leading to five transition points.
After the Mustangs closed it to 10-9, the Aggies went on a 24-9 spurt — again fueled by solid defense and the locals’ hottest shooting of 2014.
At intermission, UCD led 37-25 after a first half in which it hit 9-of-17 3-pointers; outrebounded its guests, 17-13; and scored 11 points off turnovers.
“When we started the game on an 8-2 (run), I thought we really had Cal Poly back on their heels with our defense — and that defense created some really good offensive opportunities,” Les said.
“Credit (leading scorer Corey Hawkins) because their game plan was take the ball out of his hands and they’re running two, three guys at him. It was important that Corey make the right basketball play — which I thought he did — not force the action.”
Enter the supporting cast …
In addition to Funtarov’s career-high point and rebound totals, University of San Francisco transfer Avery Johnson scored 18, also a personal best. The 6-foot-3 junior added three rebounds and three assists, while shooting 6-for-9 from the field. He hit three of his four 3-point attempts, too.
“Juice (Johnson) is kind of the unsung hero each night,” Les explained. “(He) does what we need him to do. It’s ‘Hey, go defend the other team’s best player, we need you to rebound’ and (Thursday) it was knock in those open shots because they were paying so much attention to Corey.
“Quietly goes about his business and he was big (Thursday).”
After the break, Cal Poly showed some resolve and, led by Maliik Love’s quick five points, had closed to within six at 40-34 with 17:12 to go.
But Johnson, Lemar and Justin Dueck would have no part of a Mustang comeback.
Johnson hit a layup and a deep trey, Lemar assisted on back-to-back Dueck lay-ins and another Johnson bunny in the paint made things 63-43 with less than 10 minutes to play.
Along the way, downtown deadeye Ryan Sypkens was 4-of-9 from behind the arc, tying former Cal State Fullerton standout Bobby Brown (307) for third all-time among Big West three-point shooters. Sypkens, who scored 14 points, needs five more to pass Adam Jacobson of Pacific (311) as the King of the Three.
Love (10 points) and Chris Eversley (17) joined Morgan Reese (10) in trying to get their squad to climb from the hole — but the closest they could get was 81-72 with 38 seconds remaining.
The win marked the second time this year UCD beat Cal Poly (10-17, 6-8). Back on Jan. 30, the Aggies won, 62-58, in San Luis Obispo.
Hawkins finished with 10 points and seven assists while freshman Lemar scored 14 points and three assists as the Aggies had five men in double figures.
Now, UCD will prepare for the nationally televised meeting with a grumpy Santa Barbara.
The Gauchos (18-8, 9-4) were knocked out of first place in the Big West on Thursday, losing 71-60 to front-running UC Irvine.
Meanwhile, Long Beach State got by Hawaii, 63-61, and Cal State Fullerton stopped Cal State Northridge, 82-81.
Notes: Tickets are still available for Saturday’s contest, and event staff has pulled out the auxiliary seats as UCD officials are expecting the biggest crowd in recent memory. … Cal Poly outrebounded the Aggies, 34-33, doing most of its board sweeping in the last 10 minutes. … With the Mustangs chasing UCD, it took 23 minutes of real time to play the final 3:16 of the game. For the contest, the Aggies hit 22-of-28 free throws while Cal Poly was 18-of-26 at the charity stripe. … For the third time this year, UCD hit a season-high 13 treys (13-for-24, 54.2 percent). … Nolan O’Hara, a fifth-grader at North Davis Elementary, was the official Aggie ball kid. … This marks the first trip to the United States for Funtarov’s parents, who will be in town for a week before heading to New York to visit Georgi’s sister, Diliana. …Attendance was 1,190.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.