Uncharacteristically, the UC Davis women’s basketball team had trouble on defense Thursday night at The Pavilion.
In allowing visiting Cal Poly to hit 53.6 percent from the floor — which included a game-changing 22-6 first-half spurt — the Aggies dropped an 81-72 Big West Conference decision.
Coming into the game, UCD was holding opponents under 70 points a night.
The victory keeps the first-place Mustangs (12-8 overall) atop league standings at 6-1. Meanwhile, the Aggies fall to 8-11 and slide into a fifth-place tie in the BWC at 3-3.
On a night that saw Sydnee Fipps score 15 points — 3 shy of becoming the 16th UCD player to score 1,000 — it was the ding-dong battle between CP’s Molly Schlemer and the Aggies’ Aly Doherty that drew attention.
Senior Schlemer, the 6-foot-5 All-Big West center, and the emerging sophomore Doherty gave as good as they got for most of the game.
It was Doherty who scored seven points and grabbed two boards in leading UCD to an early 13-8 lead.
It was Schlemer who fueled that subsequent 22-6 run, building a mountain that the Aggies never could quite clear.
At halftime, it was advantage Doherty, 14-10, in scoring — but Cal Poly was ahead, 43-35.
In the second half, Schlemer outscored Doherty, 16-6, but the post from El Toro High had helped UCD crawl back into the game with a couple of nifty lay-ins.
In fact, the Aggies almost came all the way back when Taylor McGuire’s drive and left-handed soft serve made it 63-62 with 6:51 remaining.
Three minutes later, baskets by Fipps and Doherty still had the game manageable at 71-68, but Celia Marfone and Fipps were playing with four fouls and on six straight possessions UCD either couldn’t score or turned the ball over.
Trailing by six with under two minutes to play, the Aggies had to foul and Cal Poly scored its final six points at the charity stripe. Fipps would foul out with 48 seconds remaining.
“(Sydnee) is so aggressive; it’s her game, getting to the rim,” UCD coach Jennifer Gross said afterward. “Maybe she pressed a little bit trying to get us going (Thursday). Not to get her going, to get the team going.”
Two of Fipps’ late fouls were offensive and, after starting the game 1-for-7 from the field, she finished 6-of-15. Add to that four rebounds, three turnovers and three steals.
But the big news remained Doherty-Schlemer. A second coming of Ali-Frazier?
“It looks like it,” Gross answered. “Fortunately, we have Doherty for two more years and Schlemer’s graduating.”
Averaging 18 points per game coming, Schlemer scored 26 and grabbed nine rebounds. Meanwhile, Doherty went for 20 points — the second time this season she’s hit that plateau.
Doherty added six rebounds, two steals, two assists and a block. She is now averaging just over 12 points a game.
“That was a great matchup,” Gross added. “They’re both really hard to stop inside. (I was) proud of Aly. She battled and went toe-to-toe with Schlemer.”
Gross said the Aggies came in with a plan to stop guards Jonae Ervin (12.6 ppg) and Arian Elegado (16). They scored six and four points, respectively.
But it was role players Taryn Garza (14 points, seven boards) and Kristen Ale (18 points) who Gross thought made the difference.
“They hit shots,” Gross said of the pair, who were a combined 10-for-16 from the floor. Ale canned 9-of-12 free throws.
UCD point guard Molly Greubel continued her solid play, scoring 10 points, committing only two turnovers and dishing out three assists.
Kelsey Harris had eight and McGuire scored five in just six minutes. The Aggies shot 47.4 percent from the field, were outrebounded 34-26 and lost the turnover battle, 19-18.
Notes: “Aly is becoming somebody we can really rely upon; somebody that can get it done inside,” Gross said of Doherty, who missed almost three weeks with an illness after scoring 24 points in a loss at Hofstra. “Which is great. (Just) because we have great shooters, the ball doesn’t always drop from the three. Knowing we have a presence inside … is really comforting and will be a key to our success in the future.” … Poly’s Ervin and Aggie Harris were teammates at Brea Olinda High … Next up, the Aggies host UC Santa Barbara (6-13, 1-5), which is coming off of a 77-60 loss to UC Irvine. Nicole Nesbit leads the Gauchos into the 2 p.m. Saturday matchup with a 15.7 scoring average. … In other Big West scores, Long Beach State edged Hawaii, 74-72 and Cal State Northridge beat UC Riverside, 71-61. … The all-time Cal Poly-UCD series is led by the Aggies, 24-21. … From the Did You Know That Dept.: On Dec. 5 in Hartford, Conn., Fipps laid in a basket around All-American Stephanie Dolson, to give UCD a 5-4 lead against No. 1 UConn. Only three other teams have had leads against the Huskies (22-0) this year — the biggest being 4 points by No. 7 Baylor in a 66-55 Connecticut win in Texas on Jan. 13. Here’s hoping the Aggie-lead tidbit helps ease the sting of that night’s 97-37 loss.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-320-4456.