UCD's Sydnee Fipps was named to the All-Big West first team on Monday. The fifth-seeded Aggies open the conference tournament Tuesday night with a 6 p.m. matchup against No. 8 UC Santa Barbara. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise file photo


Aggies won’t take lowly UCSB lightly in tourney opener

By From page B1 | March 11, 2014

UC Santa Barbara women’s basketball coach Carlene Mitchell believes the third time can be the charm.

Meanwhile, UC Davis coach Jennifer Gross pooh-poohs that old adage about how tough it is to beat the same team three times in a single season.

In Tuesday’s 6 p.m. opener of the Big West Conference Tournament at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid, the Aggies and Gauchos will figure out which is the old-wives’ tale.

Mitchell was asked if her team, which in 2012 upset this very field to advance to the NCAA postseason, had it in its makeup to do it again (despite an 8-21 record and a No. 8 seed).

“I believe 100 percent it can happen,” Mitchell told a pre-tourney conference call audience Monday. “We just watched the USC women do the same thing, knocking off a No. 1 seed (Stanford).

“When you come into tournament time (everyone) is 0-0. I think a lot of crazy things can happen in March Madness.”

Conversely, Gross isn’t buying into that third-time’s-the-charm deal.

She said her 14-15 Aggies — who hold the No. 5 seed by virtue of a 9-7 league mark — are “confident … excited and enjoy being around each other and playing for each other.”

Gross believes UCD has a handful of positives pointing toward a deep run in the conference tournament — most notably being able to play in enemy territory.

Playing at No. 1 Connecticut and then-No. 3 Stanford early in the season toughened the Aggies’ psyche. UCD is 7-9 away from The Pavilion.

“We’ve talked about how we’ve challenged ourselves,” Gross explained. “We’ve been in a lot of different environments.”

She knows her charges can handle neutral or hostile sites better than most, but the third-year head coach isn’t taking anything for granted. She agrees with Mitchell:

“You can throw records out the window. The stakes are kinda high … and (the Gauchos) have tremendous players, great scorers.”

While senior UCSB guards Melissa Zornig and Nicole Nesbit got their points in the previous two meetings, the Gauchos may look more to Vanderbilt transfer Clair Watkins in Davis-Santa Barbara III.

Watkins has been no match for UCD center Alyson Doherty (19 ppg and 7.5 rebounds in the UCSB games). Watkins averaged 9 points and four boards against second-team All-Big West player Doherty.

“In both games, Doherty has really hurt us on the inside,” Mitchell said. “Our post defense has got to be a priority for us. But they shoot it so well, that at times, it’s hard to double.

“Our post players have to do a better job of handling (Doherty) 1-on-1.”

The Aggies go in with some real motivation …

By losing 68-55 to UC Irvine on Saturday, UCD lost a first-round bye (dropping to its No. 5 seeding) while shooting an abysmal 17 percent from behind the arc.

Gross said she’s pretty sure that kind of off night won’t happen again.

Then, there is the memory of last year’s one-game-and-out experience in this tournament.

“I hope we use those emotions to compete (Tuesday),” Gross added.

Forward Sydnee Fipps (17.8 ppg) is coming off of her worst scoring night (5 points) this season. But Fipps has otherwise been a model of consistency, and Tuesday’s game comes just a day after she was named first-team All-Big West for the second straight season.

“Going into playoffs, anybody you play … it’s going to be tough to get a win because everybody’s back is against the wall,” Gross cautioned. “Everybody’s competing with a lot on the line. Both coaches are going to make adjustments from the last game.”

Notes: The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.com and KDVS (90.3 FM). … “Watkins is a little more comfortable,” Mitchell said of her 6-foot-4 center. Watkins missed almost 18 months of basketball after transferring from the SEC. “I think she makes a huge difference.” She’s had three straight double-doubles. … The UCI loss snapped UCD’s four-game win streak. … Aggie Kelsey Harris needs three treys to set a new school record for 3-pointers in a season (82), passing Karen Boisvert (81 in 1991). … In Tuesday’s other first-round game, No. 6 Long Beach State (16-14, 8-8) meets Cal State Fullerton (12-17, 8-8) at 8:30 p.m. … Should UCD win, it gets Irvine (16-14, 9-7) Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. The Aggies are 0-2 against the Anteaters. … UCD last won this tournament in 2011. It was led that year by three-time All-BWC post Paige Mintun. Its prize? A first-round NCAA bid at No. 2 Stanford. When UCSB went in 2012, its reward was a first-round shellacking by eventual national champion Baylor.

— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.

Bruce Gallaudet

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