As it enters the final stretch of the season, the UC Davis women’s basketball team can be confident knowing it can count on Sydnee Fipps to come up with the big plays in the key moments.
Fipps came alive in the second half and finished with 27 points and seven rebounds to help propel the Aggies to a 70-56 victory over UC Riverside on Thursday night at The Pavilion.
The game was a crucial one as UCD (11-15, 6-8 in Big West Conference play) entered the night wrestling with the Highlanders (11-13, 4-9) for the seventh seed in the conference tournament. With the win, the Aggies took a two-game edge on UCR and put themselves in position to challenge for a higher seed in their remaining four Big West games.
And when they do make a push for a better spot, they’ll be looking to Fipps to boost them past the competition, as she did on Thursday night. The sophomore scored 19 of her points in the second period and her shots routinely cut Highlander runs short down the stretch.
“We’ve relied on her all year, so it’s nothing new for us,” head coach Jennifer Gross said afterward. “She finished with 27. I don’t know how you can say it was a quiet 27 with Syd but I’m always shocked. I’m like ‘Gosh, it didn’t seem like it was that much.’
“She got us threes, too. People are starting to double- and triple-team her. As soon as she puts the ball on the floor, they’re coming early and she’s doing a great job of keeping her head up and finding the open player.”
Fipps wasn’t alone, however. Cortney French added 13 points, including a trio of 3-pointers, and grabbed four rebounds, while Blair Shinoda and freshman Celia Marfone each notched seven points.
The whole Aggie squad was dominant on the defensive end of the court, forcing the Highlanders into 19 turnovers and holding them to 29.8 percent shooting from the floor (13.3 percent from beyond the arc).
“We were able to pressure and (Riverside) couldn’t see anything,” Fipps said. “Mainly how they scored was (offensive rebounds) and (us) fouling them.”
Still, UCR kept the score close for much of the game, especially in the first half. UCD was up only 27-23 at halftime and the two teams had traded leads throughout that opening period.
Riverside continued to answer its hosts point for point and even took the occasional lead in the early going of the second half. But when Fipps began to take over, the Highlanders folded in the final 13 minutes.
With the Aggies down 40-39 with 12:46 left to play, Fipps began to attack defenders off the dribble and scored seven points in a span of two minutes. At one point, she drove inside and launched herself across the lane for a diving reverse layup that ignited the 821 fans at The Pavilion.
UCD surged from there, getting 3-pointers from French and Fipps and going up by as many as 16 as the clock ticked down to zero.
In the final minutes of play, the locals had as many as four freshmen on the floor at once, with Aniya Baker (four points, three assists and four steals), Alyson Doherty (two points and five rebounds) and Molly Greubel (two points and one assist) joining Marfone.
Their play, as well as that of veterans like Fipps, French and Shinoda, has Gross confident in her team’s chances at not only getting to Anaheim for the Big West Tournament, but also making some noise once they’re there.
“I have so much confidence in every single one of the players in uniform,” Gross said. “Whether it’s two seniors and a junior or four (or) five freshmen and sophomores, I believe in our team. There’s no freshman excuses anymore. They’ve all played significant minutes this year.
“There’s no time for excuses at this point in the season. We have a team that we believe in, that we know can get it done down the stretch.”
— Reach Will Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org