For a while Saturday, it looked like UC Davis — starting the game without a basket for more than seven minutes — might get run over by the visiting UC Santa Barbara men’s basketball team.
But on a night that ESPN2 televised the contest nationally, an energetic crowd of 5,227 at The Pavilion helped keep their Aggies in contention before falling, 67-54.
With the loss, UCD (9-20, 4-10) and UC Riverside are tied for the eighth and final Big West Conference tournament berth. The Highlanders (9-19, 4-10) beat Cal State Northridge in overtime, 106-105, late Saturday.
The Aggies play at UCR on Thursday. If UCD loses that one it is out of the postseason, since the Highlanders topped the Aggies, 81-69 in January.
But back to the Gauchos …
UCD had its troubles inside and at the foul line.
“Sometimes you have to take your hat off to the better team,” Aggie coach Jim Les told the media afterward. “Santa Barbara, I thought, was the aggressor. That shows up in the rebounding stats, the offensive rebounds, the 50-50 balls … they were the aggressor.
“That, combined with (shooting) ourselves in the foot with our free-throw shooting. You miss 11 — two of them are front-end bonuses — you’re fighting an uphill battle.”
UCD got waxed on the boards, with the Gauchos holding a 43-20 advantage. And that differential came with UCSB’s Player of the Year candidate Alan Williams playing only 16 minutes, thanks to foul trouble.
Santa Barbara (19-8, 10-4) had a 17-7 board bulge at the offensive end and managed to outscore the locals, 32-22, in the paint.
And, oh, those free throws …
The Aggies hit 16-of-27 and, like Les pointed out, missed the front ends of a couple of one-and-ones.
The UCD off night continued in floor shooting percentage (38.6) and in 3-point attempts (4-for-19).
But the Aggies kept scratching back.
Trailing 9-0 early, Clint Bozner’s two free throws broke the drought before Corey Hawkins hit a 14-footer at 12:32.
When Ryan Sypkens hit a 3-pointer after freshman Brynton Lemar netted two charity tosses, it was 16-9.
Sypkens’ trey sent him past Cal State Fullerton’s Bobby Brown (307) for second-most threes in Big West history. The lone Aggie senior, who was feted in a ceremony before the game, later hit two more 3-pointers and passed Mike Wozniak (308), the former Cal Poly star, for second place on the list.
Sypkens needs two more big flies to pass the league’s current behind-the-arc king, Adam Jacobsen of Pacific.
The former Franklin High standout finished the night hitting only 3-of-11 trey attempts, collecting 9 points.
“It’s a blessing to have a Senior Night the way it was (Saturday): packed house; nationally televised … Unfortunately, it wound up being a loss and for me, personally, not playing the way I envisioned,” Sypkens told The Enterprise.
He added that playing his final game at The Pavilion was nonetheless a proud moment for him. With family and friends in the stands, “I could really feel the support from the community.”
Once Sypkens brought UCD back from the dead, Darius Graham swiped the ball from Gaucho Sam Beeler and went the length of the court for a lay-in.
Later, wingman Georgi Funtarov’s trey gave the crowd a chance to raise the roof and the Aggies were within 22-18 with 4:24 to go until the break.
But from there, UCSB — a game behind first-place UC Irvine in the Big West standings — buckled down and went on an 18-5 run that spanned intermission. Eventually, the Gauchos led by 18.
But once again, the Aggies reasserted themselves.
Bozner had a basket plus one, Sypkens checked in from downtown, Avery Johnson scored and Graham hit a 12-footer. Corey Hawkins nailed three of four free throws and after Sypkens hit his third trey, Johnson contributed an old-fashioned three-point play.
With 4:04 left — and the crowd back in the game — UCD had rallied to within eight, 55-47.
It was the closest the Aggies would get.
Near the end, the Gauchos spread the court and burned some clock. Despite Williams having fouled out late, UCSB continued to effectively keep UCD off the boards.
Gaucho Harmon Zalmico hit five free throws down the stretch before teammate Taran Brown scored the game’s final points on a dunk with 27 seconds left.
Next up, the all-important visit to Riverside.
How big is Thursday’s game?
“Every game is (big),” said Les. “We, as a staff, put the time and effort and prep in and it’s not more so because it’s a TV game or more so because it’s Riverside and we’re fighting with them. We do the same each game and we expect the guys to have the same approach.”
Foothill High grad Michael Bryson led all scorers with 19 points. Included in the Gaucho sophomore’s big night were two dunks and a late three. He and Beeler had seven rebounds.
Hawkins led the Aggies with 16 points while Bozner and Johnson had 7 each.
Notes: Can it be 16 seasons since UCSB coach Bob Williams last coached UCD during that magical 1997-98 Division II national championship run? Local fans still remember, and former colleagues, players and teammates chatted with the former Aggie after the game. … Alan Williams, who is averaging 21.6 ppg, was held to 8 — but still managed 10 rebounds in his 16 minutes. … The largest home crowd in Aggie basketball history was 7,926 against Chico State (Jan. 23, 1999) in Brian Fogel’s first season as UCD coach. It was on an old Break the Record Night. … In other Big West games, Cal State Fullerton beat Long Beach State, 84-76, and UC Irvine stopped Cal Poly, 55-48. …While radio voice of the Aggies Scott Marsh (KSAC, 105.5 FM) has been working solo this season, his old batterymate Bill Herenda was doing the Anteater/Mustang game for ESPNU Saturday.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-320-4456.