Big West and Pac-12 squads clearly have two new women’s basketball teams to worry about.
When UC Davis hosted USC on Friday night, The Pavilion crowd of 1,702 saw two much-improved programs, each promising to give no quarter down the road.
While the Aggies dropped a hard-fought, 64-55, season-opening decision, UCD’s Jen Gross liked what her women did defensively.
“I was really pleased with our defensive effort,” said the third-year head coach. “That’s a talented team we played (Friday). They have weapons at every position and I thought we played a really solid defensive game.”
It must be said that both teams are coming off of losing seasons — the Aggies went 12-18 and USC was 11-20 — but in a Dec. 21, 2012, outing at Galen Center in Los Angeles, UCD beat the Women of Troy, 78-69.
In that game, USC was banged up and didn’t have Cynthia Cooper at the helm.
One of the most prolific players in women’s basketball history, Cooper is a Southern Cal grad who led her team to two NCAA titles, earned an Olympic gold medal and won four WNBA crowns.
In her first year coaching at her alma mater, Cooper has a healthy roster and is expected to orchestrate a quick turnaround in USC’s hard-court fortunes.
So banging away with the now-physical and schooled Trojans, the Aggies gave their fans an early look at a new element — hard-nosed paint play.
UCD sophomore Alyson Doherty talked about going toe-to-toe with All-Pac-12 center Cassie Harberts.
“(She) is a great post. Physical and she used her body really well,” said the 6-foot-3 El Toro High product. “Our coaches did a great job (scouting), so when she did get in the post we knew what way to play her. My teammates helped me out so much.
“Then on the offensive end, being physical right back with her and just trying to body her up (seemed to work).”
A senior, Harberts averaged 18 points per game and pulled down more than eight rebounds a night last season. On Friday, Doherty and Company held the 6-2 center to three points (0-for-8 from the field) and eight boards. Conversely, Doherty scored nine and pulled in four rebounds and blocked a shot.
For the night, UCD was beaten on the boards, 39-31, but, on points in the paint, USC barely won the scoring battle, 24-22.
“It was a tough game. UC Davis executed their offense,” Cooper told The Enterprise afterward. “What I take from the game … is we got better. We didn’t give up. We fought and fought against a tough UC Davis team. We got through the obstacles.”
It was on the perimeter — an area the Aggies hope to own this campaign — that the locals struggled at both ends of the court.
All-Big West forward Sydnee Fipps scored her first points of 2013 at 16:32 of the second half to bring UCD even at 34-34. Ninety seconds later, Iowa State transfer Kelsey Harris hit a trey and the Aggies had their biggest lead at 37-34.
But long distance didn’t work out for the Aggies on this night.
UCD went 4-for-19 beyond the arc and couldn’t bring rain late in the game when the Trojans used two big 3-pointers from Ariya Crook to take control. The Aggies had knotted things at 53-53 with 3:16 remaining before Crook showed why she’s expected to be a centerpiece in USC’s turnaround.
The Long Beach Poly grad led all scorers with 24 points. Her 4-of-7 from 3-point range was the difference (USC as a team was only 5-of-15 from downtown).
“Obviously, I’m disappointed we didn’t get the win,” Gross said. “But I’m really excited about where we’re at right now and how much room there is for us to grow.
“You know, although we had a majority of our team back from last year, we’re still a young team. I don’t think we’ve been in too many close games with this group and — the fact that it was right down to the wire — this is just going to help us grow.”
Aggie fans will see get to see what lessons were learned when UCD travels to Pacific for a 7 p.m. Monday game at the Alex G. Spanos Center.
The Tigers moved into the West Coast Conference this fall and are coming off of a 95-65 nonleague thrashing of Cal State Stanislaus on Friday.
In two Big West meetings last year, UCD went 0-2 against Pacific.
Notes: Cooper said the Aggies did a good job denying her offense the opportunities to reverse the ball to open players across court, adding about UCD overall: “They’re awesome. They’re really efficient. They work very, very hard. They are so fundamentally sound. I think they’re a strong team.” … Fipps, who averaged 17.1 ppg last year, was held to eight points on 3-of-14 shooting. She provided three assists. Former Cyclone Harris, who Gross recruited out of Brea Olinda High, led the Aggies with 14 points, a blocked shot and a team-high seven rebounds. Sophomore guard Molly Greubel added 10 points. … After missing most of 2012-13 due to injury, junior swingman Brianna Salvatore returned to the fray, scoring three points and providing lock-down defense in 20 minutes of play. … Pacific is coming off of a 27-8 year in which it failed to make the Big Dance. … Harris, meanwhile, made two NCAA postseason appearances while at Iowa State.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.