YOLO COUNTY NEWS

Aggies

Defensive-minded UCD heads to Cal

By November 30, 2010

Enterprise sports editor

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Throughout its 3-4 start to the season, the UC Davis men\’s basketball team has been consistent in one main area. And not only is it the phase of the game that makes the coaches happiest, it is exactly where a team has to excel if it is to pull off an upset.

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That area, of course, is defense. Aggie head coach Gary Stewart has been pleased with his squad\’s play on that end of the floor — UCD is allowing teams to shoot just 41.9 percent for the season and its last two opponents have combined to make just 31.7 percent of their shots — and knows that when the Aggies play at California tonight at 7 p.m., defense will be the key.

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“Playing great defense allows you to go into a hostile situation and win,” Stewart said after practice on Tuesday. “When you are looking to go from a mediocre team to a good team, from a good team to a great team and from a great team to an elite team — when you take those steps — first, you have to have talented players who buy into the team concept. And then you have to be great on defense.”

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UCD seniors Joe Harden and Mark Payne have each passed the 1,000-point plateau for their careers in the first month of the season. Talented players? Check.

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“To be honest I didn\’t know much about (the mark) until after (it happened in Saturday\’s win over Seattle), but it is a great accomplishment,”

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Harden said. “I\’m excited about it, but at the same time it\’s not a big deal right now, I\’m more focused on winning. I want to go down there and get a win (tonight).”

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Buying into the team concept? Check.

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And then there\’s the defense.

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“(Playing a big-time team like Cal) is a big deal and we are excited about it, but we are just going to focus on our own principles like defense and rebounding, holding teams to just one shot,” Harden said. “Playing good defense helps you offensively, so if we can keep getting stops, it will turn into offense on the other end of the floor.”

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Stewart also has another checklist, this one consisting of what his guys need to do when competing with a team that plays at the highest level, like the Golden Bears (3-2). Not surprisingly, defense is again at the top of that list.

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“From a defensive standout we have to keep them level,” Stewart said. “We can\’t let them get out and run and get into a transition game with them, we have to get back and set up our defense. Then, we have to block out. We have to give up one challenged shot on each possession and that\’s it.”

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On the other end of the floor, Aggies want to be efficient, and stingy with the ball.

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“Offensively, we have to make good decisions and handle the ball well,” Stewart said. “We have to get a quality shot on every trip down the floor. It is going to take a good game in all phases to beat a team like that.”

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Cal is coming off of a 2009-10 season in which it finished 24-11, captured the Pac-10 regular season title and won a game in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 8 seed, before being knocked out by Duke, the eventual national champions. Though the Bears have lost most of the key players from that team, star guard Jorge Gutierrez and center Mark Sanders-Frison return with that experience under their belts. And like any top-level team, Cal has replenished its rotation with talented players like junior forward Harper Kamp, who redshirted last season due to injury.

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“It starts with Gutierrez, he is a winner in every sense of the word,” Stewart said. “He is a great defender and an excellent competitor that can really cause problems on offensive with his ability to get into the lane.

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“Kamp is a big physical guy who is dangerous on the low post, but can also step out and play the high post because he is such a good passer.”

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So far this season, Gutierrez is averaging 13.4 ppg and has hit on 8-of-14 from behind the 3-point arc. The 6-foot-3 junior from Mexico had 18 points in the Golden Bears\’ 80-63 season-opening win over Cal State Northridge, one of UCD\’s Big West rivals.

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“They put their pants on the same way we do,” Stewart said. “The danger, when you play a team like Cal, is that you end up playing against their tradition — Jason Kidd and all the other great players they have had.

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“You have to stay in the moment and play this team, this year. If you are going to be successful in conference play, you\’re going to have to go and win in difficult environments, like Haas Pavilion will be (tonight).”

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Notes: The Bears have beaten the Aggies in all 31 meetings between the two programs, but the squads have not met since the 1986-87 season. … Tonight\’s game can be heard on KSFG (1690 AM) and can be seen on streaming video at http://www.calbears.com. … On Saturday, the Aggies will be back at The Pavilion to host Notre Dame de Namur at 7 p.m. The Division-II Argos have lost all four of their games, but feature a dangerous player in junior guard Jeff Ford (20.0) ppg.

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— Reach Chris Saur at [email protected] or (530) 747-8049. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

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