STANFORD — It was head-down-and-bang basketball and — despite holding their own on the boards — the UC Davis men couldn’t recover from an early hole and dropped an 83-56 decision to Stanford at Maples Pavilion on Saturday.
The Aggies, who have lost six straight, fell to 3-8. The Cardinal improved to 7-2.
“Going into the game I knew we’d have to shoot the ball well,” UCD coach Jim Les told the media. “And at the beginning of the game, I thought we got some really good looks — with the guys we wanted shooting ‘em. But they didn’t go in and that’s a little bit of telling the tale of who we’ve been.”
An ice-cold early first half put the Aggies in 16-3 cavern in the first nine minutes.
UCD hit just one of its first 17 shots and had few answers inside.
From there, the locals showed some life.
Corey Hawkins sank two free throws and Ryan Sypkens came off the bench to hit a trey. When Georgi Funtarov converted a nifty left-handed drive of the lane, the Aggies had closed to 24-12.
Moments later, Hawkins was fouled on another penetration of The Trees. After hitting his first free throw, the second clanged off the rim — right to a crashing Hawkins, whose putback cut the lead to nine at 24-15.
Despite the Cardinal continuing its dominance at the offensive end, Aggie forward Clint Bozner gave Stanford some problems under the UCD bucket.
A terrific Bozner spin move off a Darius Graham assist was followed by the transfer from L.A. Trade Tech lowering his shoulder and clearing his own space for a lay-in.
At that point it was 29-19, but The Trees took over again …
Canadian native Dwight Powell — a 6-foot-10 wingman — took advantage of a blown Aggie assignment and dunked. Moments later he hit a 17-footer, which was followed by 6-7 guard Anthony Brown’s 3-pointer.
At the break, UCD trailed, 40-23.
But Les believed his team’s effort was there:
“Defensively for the first eight, nine minutes I thought we had some fire. I thought we challenged. Then about the 10-minute mark we didn’t have as much energy, intensity and enthusiasm on the defensive end.
“That’s too good a team not to stay locked in.”
UCD, a team that shot 40.5 percent from beyond the arc last season, came into Saturday hitting only 34 percent of its 3-pointers.
Against Stanford, that stat was, ah, static. The Aggies hit 7-of-20 trey attempts (34.5 percent).
Meanwhile, the much taller Cardinal was playing efficiently.
Led by Illinois native Chasson Randle’s 16 points, Stanford got a balanced attack featuring three players (Josh Huestis, Powell and Brown) with 15 apiece.
As a team, the Cardinal shot 58.5 percent from the field and 11-of-20 from 3-point range.
A 22-12 assist-to-turnover ratio attested to Stanford finding the open man and keeping the ball safe.
But other statistics hinted at a much more competitive game …
UCD — with Bozner and Funtarov doing yeoman’s work inside — was barely outscored in the paint by the much taller Cardinal, 24-22.
Funtarov collected six boards and Hawkins pulled down seven as the Aggies were narrowly outrebounded, 35-32. Bozner knocked 7-foot Stefan Nastic around enough to hold him to just two rebounds.
Funtarov led UCD with 13 points while Bozner had six points and discouraged a Stanford free-for-all inside. Brynton Lemar was the only other local in double figures with 11.
So is this shooting malaise fixable?
“Yeah. We’re trying a lot of different things,” Les explained. “Guys are getting a lot of extra shots in (in practice) and it becomes mental.
“Having been in this position before, the best way to get out of it is to do all the other things …
“Go get a rebound in traffic, get on the floor for a loose ball, take a charge. It’s amazing when you get yourself into the game doing all the hustle plays, when that next three comes around, it feels better. Getting to the free-throw line, getting out and running and getting a layup or two.
“Those things really get you going and build a little confidence. We have too many good shooters on this team to continue at this clip.”
The Aggies are 1-17 all-time against Stanford.
UCD is at San Jose State on Wednesday night before Air Force comes to town Saturday as part of an afternoon doubleheader with the UCD women. The men play at 2:30 p.m.
Then, Furman calls on Dec. 30 (7:30 p.m.) before a Jan. 2 home game with Simpson (7 p.m.) ends nonleague competition.
The Aggies start Big West Conference play with road games at Cal State Northridge (Jan. 9) and Long Beach State (Jan. 11).
Notes: Aggie center Josh Ritchart, who started 2013 on fire, will miss another three or four games, according to the big center. He hurt his right lower leg against Utah last month, but kept playing well. However, the injury continued to bother him and he’s been relegated to a support boot for almost two weeks. … “With Josh being out, (we’ve asked Georgi) to really step up … and have increased his role,” Les told The Enterprise. “You can tell the coaching staff has a lot of confidence in him, his teammates have a lot of confidence in him. He’s really playing at a high level and he’s doing it at both ends of the floor: he’s shooting the ball, rebounding the ball and he’s taking it to the basket. About Bozner: “Boz is a physical presence for us and when he’s aggressive and is getting after it at both ends in the paint, he really raises our level of play. We have to play hard every play. Our margin of error shrinks when you’re missing a guy like Josh.” … Sypkens, the Franklin High grad who was one of the nation’s top shooting guards last season, continues to struggle. Sypkens went 1-for-5 from beyond the arc and missed his only inside shot. In the past four games he is averaging 9.3 ppg and is 5-for-25 on trey attempts.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-320-4456.