ANAHEIM – Overcoming a woeful first-half shooting performance, the Aggie women — who once trailed by 11 points — bounced into the Big West women’s tournament championship game with a 44-39 victory Friday afternoon over UC Riverside at the Honda Center.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak against the Highlanders and avenged last year’s 71-67 loss to UCR in the tournament’s title game.
Now, UC Davis meets Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Saturday for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Mustangs dispatched upstart Pacific, 70-55, earlier in the day.
UCD senior Paige Mintun had a game-high 15 points while Aggie guard Hana Asano added eight. Heidi Heintz, brilliant on defense, scored six points – four in the decisive final four minutes.
The Aggies, who finished fourth in Big West play, ran their record to 23-8 while UCR fell to 19-12. The Highlanders were paced by Brittany Waddell’s 13 points and Tre’Shont Nottingham’s 12.
UCD went on a 10-2 run late in the second half, a run that turned a 30-32 deficit into a 40-34 advantage when Heintz stole a pass and converted at the other end, forcing a UCR timeout with 3:11 remaining.
Moments later, when Nottingham missed another 3-pointer, Kasey Riecks grabbed the rebound, leading to an Asano jumper and giving UCD a 42-34 lead with 1:40 to go.
Almost immediately, Rheya Neabors managed a 3-pointer for Riverside, closing the gap to 42-37, but Heintz grabbed a defensive board, was fouled and converted two free throws to close out the Aggies’ nemesis.
A Riverside basket at the buzzer provided the final score.
UCD coach Sandy Simpson said all week that he was concerned about Riverside’s outside shooting, but added “we have a few tricks in store” for UCR. With the Aggies running at shooters and sticking hands high, the Highlanders hit only five-of-18 three-point attempts.
A pedestrian first half saw UCD shoot 22 percent while Riverside hit half of its 14 shots from the field. The Highlanders led 20-15 at intermission.
The Aggies’ ability to jump at the Highlanders before coming under control resulted in 18 turnovers for UCR. Davis turned the ball over 11 times in the first 20 minutes. For the game, Riverside had 26 giveaways to 18 for the locals.
Game time Saturday is 1 p.m. Davis has split its two games with Cal Poly (18-11).