LONG BEACH — Sure, UC Davis escaped the first round of the Big West Conference women’s basketball tournament with a 58-57 victory over a scrappy UC Santa Barbara squad on Tuesday night.
The Aggies survived to play another day when Gaucho guard Onome Jemerigbe missed a short throw-in at the final buzzer.
But earlier — while her team was nursing a nine-point lead — UCD center Alyson Doherty misstepped on her way to what would have been her 16th point of the night.
Down she went just outside the paint. Attended to on the court for more than three minutes, the brilliant sophomore from Lake Forest would be helped to the bench — her evening (maybe season?) finished with a left-knee injury.
Afterward, UCD coach Jennifer Gross indicated it was too early to know the extent of the All-Big West second-team selection’s injury.
“I don’t know,” the third-year coach told The Enterprise. “She’s going to be checked out by the doctor and the training staff, so we’re just kind of wait-and-see.”
Even if the injury isn’t serious, one team insider said it was doubtful if Doherty would be back out on the court in time for Wednesday’s second-round meeting with UC Irvine (8:30 p.m. at the Walter Pyramid).
The fourth-seeded Anteaters are 16-14 and have beaten No. 5 UCD (15-15) twice. Both were competitive games with Doherty scoring 28 points and grabbing 15 boards.
On Tuesday against the Gauchos, with Doherty scoring 12 first-half points, the Aggies had gone up by as many as 19 in the first period.
“I thought we came out tremendously in the first half with great energy, really executed offensively … played some of the best defense we played this year,” Gross reported.
But even with UCD’s 6-foot-3 post presence in the game, Santa Barbara began to chip away in the second half.
After Lauren Beyer converted a lay-in and Sydnee Fipps hit two free throws, Brianna Salvatore nailed a 12-foot jumper to re-establish what looked like a comfortable Aggie lead, 55-42, with only 6:22 remaining.
However, UCD would get only three points the rest of the way. It was guard Molly Greubel’s late, emotional free throws that provided the margin of victory.
Trailing by one, the Gaucho full-court press was paying dividends. With only 1:05 to go, Melissa Zornig got a little too aggressive and flattened Greubel. It was the biggest of four charges Greubel drew on the night.
This time, when official Wendy Dailey blew her whistle, the UCSB bench immediately erupted in protest. Dailey heard something she didn’t like and the Gauchos were hit with a game-changing technical.
Greubel stepped to the line and hit both charity tosses. As her second shot went in, she fired a hand signal toward Doherty on the bench.
“I just wanted Aly to know I had her in mind when I was shooting those,” Greubel said. “(Her injury) really didn’t come at a great time in the game because Santa Barbara started a run. She’s such a big part of our team. Such a big inside presence both offensively and defensively, we knew we had to step it up.”
Gross, Greubel and Celia Marfone gave credit to the Gauchos for the comeback, promising that their fallen teammate didn’t make them lose focus. If anything, it helped turn the 14-time Big West champs away.
“We made just enough plays to do it for Aly,” Greubel added. “We were really fighting for her to get this win. It was really important to us because we’ve been working all year long. For us to get this win, as Jen said, it’s definitely bittersweet.”
The victory is UCD’s fifth in its last six outings.
The loss was Santa Barbara’s fourth straight and sixth in its last seven games.
The Aggies were led by Marfone with 15 points and six boards. Doherty scored 14 and grabbed seven caroms in 26 minutes.
Two-time Big West first-teamer Fipps scored 11, while Greubel added 4 and had five assists.
Gross also praised the play of forwards Beyer and Idit Oryon off the bench. Beyer collected seven boards and Oryon make a circus save on a ball going out of bounds. The senior had four rebounds.
Zornig hit 9-of-16 from the field, finishing with 21 points. Destini Mason added 16 for Santa Barbara, as did Nicole Nesbit.
“They have some good players and we knew that,” Greubel added. “Just the fact we were able to get it done and end up on top meant a lot to us.”
Notes: There’s a new, single-season 3-point Aggie record-holder — junior Kelsey Harris. With her three treys, the transfer from Iowa State now has 82 long-range baskets, passing ex-UCD deadeye Karen Boisvert (1991) by one. … Orange County — just down the 405 freeway from The Pyramid, was the prep home to four Aggie starters — Doherty (El Toro High), Marfone (Laguna Hills), Harris (Brea Olinda) and Greubel (Foothill). … UCSB still leads the all-time series with the Aggies, 15-12. … Again, UCD was sketchy from the field (35.1 percent) and beyond the arc (6-for-26). Santa Barbara shot 60.7 percent in the second half after shooting just 26.7 in the initial 20 minutes. … “I am so proud of our team,” Gross said in the postgame press conference. “I feel so lucky to be part of this group. They play for each other. They care about each other. They like each other. (Tuesday) they stuck together when we faced some adversity … and we found a way to get it done.”
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.