A nonconference schedule can be compared to a dress rehearsal.
It’s a chance to run through things, work out the kinks and get mentally prepared for the “real deal” — in this case, Big West play, out of which the conference tourney winner gets a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve built a nonconference schedule that mimics our conference schedule as much as possible,” said Aggie women’s basketball coach Jen Gross. “We started on the road and wanted to play aggressive. When we’re on the road, let’s be determined to wreak havoc on people.”
UCD (5-0) has started the season by causing trouble for opponents both on the road and at home. The Aggies are still tweaking and fine-tuning, but Gross likes what she is seeing. Upcoming opponents Santa Clara (4-1) and Stanford (3-1), will have to deal with a UCD squad that started strong, and continues to improve.
“I really feel that (our record) really wouldn’t matter, if we were 2-3 … or 5-0,” Gross added. “The reality is we’re getting better. We feel really good about where we are at right now. I feel like we’re growing as a team.”
UCD, which has played its last three games at home, takes its act on the road Monday to face some of its toughest competition to date.
The Aggies face the Broncos on Monday in the Leavey Center at 7 p.m. UCD trails Santa Clara 8-7 in the all-time series but the Aggies have won the last three meetings, including a 70-54 victory last year.
“I think we match up pretty well with them,” Gross said. “We have a couple of post players (trying to come) back from injuries, so we’re a little smaller inside. They may have the advantage in the paint, but those kids are going to have to come out and guard us on the perimeter.”
Aggie senior guard Samantha Meggison is averaging 14 points per game and has been the leading scorer in the last four UCD wins. Five-foot-10 guard Blair Shinoda and the 5-11 Meggison each have 24 rebounds on the year to tie for the team lead.
For Santa Clara, 6-4 center Ruta Zurauskyte averages 8.2 rebounds per game, and is one of four Broncos scoring in double digits. Senior guard Alyssa Shoji leads the way at 17.6 ppg.
“They are a much-improved team from last year,” Gross said. “They’re playing really well.”
The Aggies will have a day to recoup and get some schoolwork done before heading to Palo Alto on Wednesday for a meeting with the Cardinal at Maples Pavilion at 7 p.m. No. 3 Stanford has defeated UCD five times in the past four seasons, most recently an 86-59 decision in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Though the powerful Cardinal will be an extremely tough matchup, the Aggie players have gained a familiarity with Stanford and will not be intimidated.
The Aggies actually hold an 8-5 all-time series edge over the Cardinal but haven’t won since the two schools rekindled their rivalry in 2007.
“When we played Stanford in that first game, there was a little trepidation; they were No. 2 in the country,” Gross said. “It’s a great opportunity to play them, a great opportunity to gauge ourselves. I’m excited every time we get to challenge a top team.”
Stanford comes into the game on the heels of an up-and-down week that saw the Cardinal fall, 68-58, to No. 2 Connecticut on Nov. 21, then handle Xavier, 80-64, on Friday.
Setting the pace for Stanford are sisters Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike. Nnemkadi, a 6-2 senior forward, averages 25.8 ppg and 11.3 rpg, while Chiney, a 6-3 sophomore, averages 14.6 ppg.
“Thankfully, we’re in an area where (in a short) drive, you can find opponents,” Gross said. “You go on the road, but it’s just like a day trip, basically. We need to prepare teams to win on the road, and the only way to do that is go on the road.”
It’s just another dress-rehearsal run-through to prepare for the big show.
— Reach Kim Orendor at firstname.lastname@example.org