By Joseph D’Hippolito
ANAHEIM — Two of the Big West Conference’s most potent offensive forces sputtered in the first round of the men’s basketball tournament Thursday at the Honda Center.
UC Davis’ Corey Hawkins and Ryan Sypkens combined for just 15 points, as the sixth-seeded Aggies fell to No. 3 Cal Poly, 64-41.
Hawkins, the Big West’s scoring leader at 20.9 points per game, missed seven of nine shots from the floor to finish with a season-low six points.
“Corey drew a lot of attention,” said UCD coach Jim Les. “He had two, sometimes three guys running after him when he caught the ball.”
But the sophomore guard compensated by contributing team highs of seven rebounds, three assists and two steals while playing every minute before an injury forced him out with 8:51 to play. Hawkins did not return after he landed awkwardly on his right ankle after attempting a jump shot.
“He was doing what we wanted him to do and trust his teammates,” Les said. “He’s got to make that next pass, that next play. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make them pay.”
Sypkens, who entered the game with the nation’s best shooting percentage from 3-point range at 47.1 percent, led the Aggies (14-17) with nine points. But Sypkens made only two of nine shots beyond the arc and missed nine of 11 overall.
The rest of the Aggies fared no better. UCD established season lows in points (41) and field goals (16) while compiling its second-lowest shooting percentage of the season at 36.4.
That performance undermined what Les called “one of the better defensive halves we had,” one that Cal Poly (18-12) escaped with a 20-19 lead.
UCD forced the Mustangs to shoot just 28 percent in the first half while holding them to the fewest points any team scored in a first half against the Aggies this season.
“Our guys were in sync,” Les said, “all five guys on the floor.”
But Cal Poly began the second half with an 11-0 blitz that did more than extend the lead to 31-19 with 3:25 gone in the period. It destroyed the Aggies’ poise.
“When we didn’t make some of the open shots that we did get,” Sypkens said, “we got frustrated and down on ourselves.”
As a result, the UCD defense collapsed.
“In the second half, our inability to see some shots go in had an effect on us,” Les said. “It weighed on us, even to missing some free throws that we normally make.
“We carried some of that disappointment to the defensive end. The pressure mounted on us to try and score, and that was counter-productive for us.”
With a 45-32 lead, Cal Poly used an 8-0 spree to build a 53-32 advantage with 8:41 to play. The Mustangs shot 51.6 percent in the second half, 50 percent from 3-point range, to earn their sixth consecutive victory and a berth in Friday night’s semifinals.
“We could never get into a flow, offensively,” Les said. “The first team that was going to break out into an offensive rhythm was going to have the upper hand.”
Cal Poly’s Dylan Royer made all five of his 3-pointers and led all scorers with 17 points. Drake U’u added 10 points and Brian Bennett had nine rebounds and eight points.