STANFORD — Are these Aggie women the best 0-3 basketball team in the land?
“We might be,” UC Davis coach Jen Gross said with a smile after Sunday’s 66-48 loss to No. 6 Stanford at Maples Pavilion.
“I feel like we’re so close in so many different ways,” the third-year leader told The Enterprise. “We have stretches of really exciting play where we’re getting it done on both offense and defense.
“If we can put that together for 40 minutes, I think we’re going to be a tough matchup for a lot of people on our schedule.”
But right now, UCD is in the throes of a rugged nonleague slate that has seen the locals lose to USC (64-55), Pacific (86-78) and now the Cardinal.
Stanford was coming off a 76-57 loss at No. 1 Connecticut and her team’s play in that setback was cause for Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer to get the attention of her players.
VanDerveer said after the UConn game that there were areas “to clean up” and that her charges would be “working on some things” coming into the Aggie contest.
However, early on UCD served notice: If Stanford was going to win, it would have to earn it.
The Aggies held the Cardinal to a shot clock violation on four missed shots on the first possession, then took a 2-0 lead when sophomore Molly Greubel drove inside for a lay-in.
UCD post Alyson Doherty was going toe-to-toe with Stanford All-American Chiney Ogwumike and Brianna Salvatore was doing enough to offset the play of emerging Card guard Amber Orrange.
Aggie top gun Sydnee Fipps scored 13 of her team-high 14 points in the first half, but an 11-0 run hurt the locals, who went into the locker room down 34-20.
The problems were clear. Against a massive inside trio — Stanford goes 6-foot-5, 6-4, 6-3 across the front — UCD was being outrebounded by the halftime and had hit only 1-of-12 from 3-point range.
Even though the Cardinal jump-started the second half with a 4-0 run, the Aggies still weren’t looking toward the bus.
Spanning the intermission, Stanford had gone on a 10-0 run until Heidi Johnson scored from beyond the arc. A little later, Iowa State transfer Kelsey Harris nailed back-to-back treys and UCD was back in touch, 44-29.
Even with Ogwumike rolling to 28 points and 15 rebounds, VanDerveer couldn’t call the dogs off. The Aggies kept attacking and the Cardinal wasn’t out of the woods until the last three minutes of the game.
“I thought we really battled,” Gross said. “We had some stretches where we gave up a few boards that I thought we could have had, but for the most part — from start to finish — we competed on the boards.
“And there was a stretch in the second half where I thought our offense was beautiful. We were playing confident, carefree almost: playing hard, competing … we had a sense of calm about where we were, just knocking down shots and having fun.”
Gross’ women converted 7-of-16 3-pointers in the second half — a percentage (43.8) that she thinks her team can maintain for 40-minute stretches. Despite a 49-37 rebound discrepancy, Gross believes the Aggies did what they could inside.
It marked Stanford’s eighth straight win in a series that now stands at 9-9 all-time. However, the margin of victory (18 points) was the smallest in the VanDerveer Era.
Harris, who gained NCAA tournament playoff experience in each of her two years with the Cyclones, gave her perspective, noting that playing Stanford at Maples wasn’t much different from the postseason:
“You have to go with the mindset that it’s a big game, but I’ve been in that situation before,” the Brea Olinda High All-CIF standout explained. “I think we did pretty well. We were just trying to stick with it. We battled hard and played ’em tough. But it wasn’t the outcome we wanted.”
Given the three tough opening games for UCD, looking down the road, it doesn’t get any easier. Not even remotely …
The Aggies get a break until Nov. 26 when San Jose State (3-1) comes calling as part of a Pavilion doubleheader with the men. Then it’s off to the Cal Poly tournament where San Francisco (Nov. 29) and Akron (Nov. 30) await.
After that, there’s the trip to Connecticut to take on those top-ranked Huskies on Dec. 5 (and Hofstra Dec. 7).
Gross hopes her women are developing hard-nosed habits that will serve them well into the future.
“We’re not going to be facing the Chineys of the world in every single game,” the coach adds.
(Well, except maybe on that trip to Storrs, Conn.)
Notes: Harris led UCD with seven rebounds. Her nine points came on 3-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Salvatore added eight points and Johnson’s two treys accounted for her afternoon’s total before fouling out. … UCD hit 4-of-8 free throws while Stanford was 13-of-24. … San Jose State coach Jamie Craighead is in her first year with the Spartans. She coached the last four seasons at Sacramento State. Craighead took with her two transfers from UCD — forward Emily Vann and guard Aniya Baker. … Both Aggie men’s and women’s hoops programs are partnering with the Yolo Food Bank for its annual canned food drive. Fans who bring nonperishable food items to the Nov. 26 doubleheader (men play Sacramento State at 7 p.m.) will be able to buy a $5 general admission ticket. “Not only will the event feature a fun-filled night of basketball … but our fans will have the opportunity to make a huge difference in the Food Bank’s efforts to provide assistance to children and families in need,” Gross said. Last year, Aggies fans donated 315 pounds of much-needed food items.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at bgallaudet@davisenterprise or 530-747-8047.