Same story, different day.
That’s what head coach Jim Les told the UC Davis men’s basketball team in the locker room after it fell to 1-5 with a 73-64 loss to San Jose State last Wednesday night at The Pavilion.
And, looking at the way things have played out for the Aggies thus far this year, it’s easy to see what he meant.
Losing close games has become a bit of a habit for UCD. All five of its losses have come by nine points or less, several of them decided in the final minute. And while bad luck has played a role in the less-than-stellar start — Oklahoma State and Nevada both made low percentage shots down the stretch and the Aggies were unable to do the same against Northern Arizona — their inconsistency in several key areas of the game and inability to finish have hurt them more.
While able to put it all together for short stretches, UCD has struggled to do the simple things, like protecting the ball and boxing out, for a full game. Against San Jose State, the Aggies turned the ball over 15 times and gave up 15 offensive rebounds, together leading to 34 Spartan points.
“We’ve got to take care of the basketball better and not hand teams offense, because our defense, when it (has gotten) set, has done some really good things,” Les said after that contest.
More frustrating than the mistakes was the fact that the Aggies were capable of avoiding them. Last Wednesday, UCD often flashed its strength on the boards and ability to move the ball around the court and get it to open shooters without coughing it up. The Aggies had six players with four or more rebounds and guards Paolo Mancasola, Ryan Sypkens and Corey Hawkins combined to dish out 13 assists.
But as the team is beginning to realize, it takes 40 minutes of solid play, not spurts of it, to consistently come out on top.
“We just haven’t crossed the line with this young group and make the necessary plays to win (games),” Les said.
If there is, in fact, a line to be crossed, UCD came thiiiiisss close to it against the Spartans. The Aggies kept the score close throughout the game and appeared on the verge of taking over the lead and pulling away several times during the second half.
Their last gasp came at the four-minute mark, when Sypkens buried a trey to cut the Spartan lead to 64-62.
But UCD was unable to connect on another field goal attempt and allowed SJSU to finish the game on a 9-2 run.
“We need wins,” a visibly frustrated Hawkins said afterward. “There’s no coming close anymore, there’s no ‘we almost got it.’ We need to get wins. We need to start learning how to finish games now, rather than wait for conference (play).”
But while the team may be frustrated, it has no reason to panic — yet. The Aggies have three more weeks before beginning their Big West schedule and that should be more than enough time to patch things up.
Moreover, behind Hawkins (20.5 points per game), Sypkens (17.5 ppg) and center J.T. Adenrele (10 ppg), UCD has shown that it can score in bunches when it doesn’t turn the ball over. In its one win, over rival Sacramento State on Nov. 20, UCD lit up the scoreboard with 63 points in the second half alone.
The pieces are there. Les and Company just need to find a way to put them together.
— Reach Will Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org