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Aggie women head to Thunderdome

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January 4, 2011 | Leave Comment

Enterprise sports editor

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When the UC Davis women\’s basketball team surprised everyone by losing its Big West Conference opener to Cal State Fullerton on New Year\’s Eve, missed shots (many of them layups) were the culprit.

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The Aggies\’ second conference game — a blowout victory over Cal State Northridge on Sunday — gave them a bit of a reprieve, but scoring inside is about to be a problem again. UCD (11-3, 1-1) travels to the Thunderdome on Thursday to deal with Mad Mekia and the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (7-6, 1-0).

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Mad Mekia, otherwise known Mekia Valentine, is a 6-foot-4 center who set a UCSB single season record with 120 blocked shots last year. So far this season, Valentine has blocked 54 shots (4.15 per game) and is the main reason why the Gauchos lead the Big West in field goal percentage defense at 34.8 percent.

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For their own part, the Aggies are leading the conference in points allowed, as they give up just 57 points a contest. Defensive battle anyone?

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“With Mekia in there, the shots she doesn\’t block, she changes,” UCD head coach Sandy Simpson said. “We are going to have to play well defensively because I don\’t expect this game to be in the 70\’s or 80\’s.”

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Fortunately, as shown by their league-leading points allowed, defense is an area where they Aggies have excelled all season. Even in the 58-56 loss to Fullerton, Simpson was pleased with his team\’s play on that end of the floor.

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“You\’re going to go through games where you miss shots, but with 1:25 left in the game we had a 54-50 lead,” Simpson said. “We weren\’t able to pull it out, but I\’ll take our chances holding a team under 60 points.”

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In 14 games this season, the Aggies have not allowed any team to score over 66 points and have held half of their opponents to 59 or less.

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UCD has done it with a deep roster that allows it to keep the pressure on at all times. The Aggies have forced at least 18 turnovers in every contest and feature four of the Big West\’s top six robbers — Samantha Meggison (2.1 steals per game), Kasey Riecks (2.0), Paige Mintun (1.9) and Hana Asano (1.8).

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But holding UCSB down won\’t be easy. UCD will have to deal with an offense that is run by point guard Emilie Johnson, who leads a group of four Gauchos among the Big West\’s top 20 scorers. Johnson, a junior who Simpson calls “a great guard and a really difficult matchup” puts in 12.5 points a night, while Kelsey Adrian (10.4), Sweets Underwood (10.4) and Valentine (10.1) are also in double figures.

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Underwood is a 6-foot sophomore who made the All-Big West Freshman team last year and is leading UCSB in rebounding so far this season at 8.1. Adrian is a 6-1 junior, who sat out the 2009-10 campaign after transferring from Cal. She started 10 games for the Golden Bears in 2008-09 and is a good shooter from long range, according to Simpson.

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“Sweets Underwood, aside from having the best name in the league, is really adjusting to the college game and learning to use her athleticism,” Simpson said. “And with Mekia Valentine in the post and Emilie Johnson at the point, that\’s a good way to start any offense.”

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The Aggies have another tough road game on Saturday, when they play Cal Poly (5-7, 1-0) in San Luis Obispo.

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The Mustangs were picked to be one of the top teams in the Big West before disaster struck on opening night. Cal Poly lost reigning conference player of the year Kristina Santiago to a season-ending knee injury just two minutes into a game against Seattle.

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“They still have a lot of great outside shooters like Rachel Clancy and Ashlee Burns,” Simpson said. “They still have enough weapons to beat you if you are off your game. But losing Santiago was a huge blow to what they do. The attention you had to pay to her inside really opened things up for those shooters.”

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Clancy has made 33 3-pointers this year and leads the Mustangs in scoring at 15.4 a night. Burns has made 25 longballs (at a 41 percent clip) and scores 10.2 points per game.

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Notes: Riecks, who sat out the first two Big West games with a foot injury, still hasn\’t practiced with the team. She is expected back soon, however, as Simpson called her “a game-time” decision for Thursday\’s outing. … Former Davis High star Nikol Allison is a member of the Mustangs. She spent last year, her first with the program, redshirting because of an injury and has played just 10 minutes in two games so far this season. Allison started for the Blue Devil varsity squad for four years, culminating in a senior season that earned her the 2009 DHS Athlete of the Year award.

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— Reach Chris Saur at csaur@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8049. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

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