What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, goes the saying.
If that’s true, looking at UC Davis’ early-season women’s basketball schedule, the Aggies should be bench-pressing small cars by Christmas.
On Sunday, it’s off to Maples Pavilion for a showdown with Pac-12 powerhouse No. 3 Stanford.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, the Cardinal is laser-focused after a 76-57 loss at No. 1 Connecticut on Monday night.
“I think that (the loss) can be a real positive for our team,” Hall of Fame Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer explained earlier in the week. “Positive from the successes people had and (for others), to get their attention: This is what the best team plays like. We need to really understand it and internalize it and come out and work on it.
“We play Connecticut with no illusions. (Storrs, Conn.) is a tough place to play and it’s a tough team. We got better and better as the game went on and a game like this right now is helpful for us.”
While Sunday’s 2 p.m. game marks the seventh time UCD and Stanford have met since 2006, Stanford has won all seven and the closest the Aggies came was in losing 62-41 on Dec. 2. 2007. UCD hosted the Cardinal last year, losing 87-38, at The Pavilion.
So-called mid-major schools like the Aggies rarely come out of these opportunities on top. These games are designed to let both teams work on things.
UCD coach Jennifer Gross on playing national superpowers: “The reason that we schedule schools like Stanford and UConn is to have the opportunity to compete and measure ourselves against the best teams and some of the most talented players in the country.”
Still, every so often, that upset occurs.
“It is still so early in the season, right now our focus is to get better every, single day,” Gross said. “After a challenging opening weekend, we were fortunate to have an entire week to focus on our improvement — both offensively and defensively. If we can improve at the rate that I think we’re capable of, we are going to be a tough matchup in those upcoming games.”
If UCD (0-2) loses, it will be one of nation’s best 0-3 teams. If it wins or even plays tough, the result could wake another sleeping giant.
The Aggies meet No.1 UConn on the road come Dec. 5.
By the way, who made up this slate of nonleague challenges?
“We put together a tough schedule … because we know we can compete on a very high level,” the third-year UCD head coach explained. “Although we came up a little bit short in the first two games, we did a lot of things right.
“One thing I love about this team is how coachable each player is and how determined we are to improve.”
The Aggies’ first two opponents — USC and Pacific — are a combined 5-0.
Looking at the next 10 non-Big West Conference opponents, their combined record is 16-6. Only Santa Clara (0-2) has a losing record.
But Aggie team leader Sydnee Fipps isn’t phased by the degree of difficulty ahead. She says it’s why people play college basketball, why she and her teammates came to UCD.
About the trip to Connecticut: “It’s going to be a huge crowd. It’s going to be fun, a loud environment. It’s awesome,” Fipps told The Enterprise, adding that when she first saw the defending national champions on the schedule her reaction was “Heck ya! Let’s go!”
But first, how about the No. 3 team in the land for a warm-up?
Notes: The average score in those last seven Aggie-Cardinal games is 81-47. … When the Trojans got by UCD, 64-55, on Monday, it marked the beginning of a new era at USC. It was legendary player Cynthia Cooper’s first game and first coaching win at her alma mater. It isn’t surprising that the Trojans are now 3-0. In stops at three other colleges, the four-time WNBA champ has an average of plus-12 in the win column during her inaugural seasons. At Texas Southern, the team went from 5-26 to 20-12 (including 16-2 in conference). … In the 96-78 loss at Pacific, Heidi Johnson (17 points) and Brianna Salvatore (18) joined Fipps (25) in illustrating that this UCD squad can get you from a lot of different directions. Pacific (2-0) was 27-8 in 2012-13.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com