One last-second shot by the Wolf Pack was all that separated the UC Davis men’s basketball team from a win over Nevada in last season’s encounter.
And it was one shot that put the Aggies back in the running for a victory in the rematch against the Wolf Pack at The Pavilion on Saturday. The clock read 00:07 as UCD guard Brynton Lemar made a layup to tie the game and send it to overtime.
However, the Aggies ultimately did not triumph in the extra period. The lifted spirits of local fans came crashing down when Nevada (4-5) wound up ahead of UCD (3-7) as the fifth and final buzzer rang with the scoreboard reading 87-81.
Once the smoke cleared, Aggie head coach Jim Les was not at all disappointed with his local squad.
“We’re proud of the effort and the fight that this team showed,” Les told The Enterprise. “They were missing a big part of their team, but there was no mental letdown on their part. Sure, there were some things we could’ve cleaned up, but if they battle like that — they’ll get their share of wins.”
The essential piece of the Aggie puzzle that was amiss on Saturday was leading scorer Josh Ritchart. He was out for the game to rest his right leg, which has been bruised since UCD’s game at Utah in mid-November.
This 6-foot-9 forward is averaging 18 points per game and nine rebounds. … Big shoes to fill.
The onset of Saturday’s contest held promise for Ritchart’s replacement in the starting lineup, junior Iggy Nujic. The Australia-native landed the first bucket of the night, and was 3-for-4 on subsequent attempts by the 12-minute mark.
The Aggies were off to a good start and, by that 12-minute mark had, already established a 21-17 lead over the Wolf Pack. UCD guard Ryan Sypkens’ shot from beyond the arc a minute later made the Aggies 5-of-5 on 3-pointers.
Impressive sharpshooting allowed UCD to keep holding Nevada down, and with six minutes left the Aggies held their largest lead of the night at 33-22. Credit also is due to the timely rebounding of UCD forward Georgi Funtarov, who tallied four boards and six points before halftime.
But the Wolf Pack came charging back before the break, and cut the 11-point Aggie lead down to 33-31 with back-to-back turnovers that led to layups.
That’s when Corey Hawkins, who was aware of his status as the man in charge of scoring in Ritchart’s stead, began to heat up on the chilly winter night. Hawkins would eventually catch fire enough to record a season-high 34 points. He went 9-of-13 overall.
“I knew we would be hurting without (Ritchart), who contributes on offense and defense,” Hawkins said. “I wanted to take it upon myself to make sure we got our guys going, especially on defense. (Nevada) is a good team, they have NBA-caliber players. We did a good job of containing them.”
His two jumpshots brought the first half to a 37-34 close in favor of UCD. The tables soon turned when the Aggies incurred four personal fouls within the first few minutes of the next period, allowing the Wolf Pack to pull ahead 44-42.
The game became a race thereafter, with neither squad gaining more than four points worth of space from the other. The gridlock eventually came to 73-72 head with 15 seconds on the clock, wherein UCD’s Darius Graham bricked two free throws.
Wolf Pack standout Deonte Burton, who made the game-winning shot in the 2012 matchup, was fouled and made one free throw to make it a 74-72 game just seconds later. But UCD retribution came in the form of Lemar’s aforementioned clutch layup.
With two seconds left, and the game tied, Burton launched a 3-pointer toward the net, which — if it had landed — would’ve been some serious déjà vu for the Aggies. But it sailed wide, and into overtime the squads went.
“At that point it was time to strap our boots up and go again,” Hawkins said. “I’m sure we were tired — I’m sure they were — but we had to find a way to continue to press on. There were definitely some nerves.”
A key jumpshot from Funtarov and a pair of free throws by Lemar and Hawkins made it a precarious 81-78 game as the extra minutes had dwindled down to half its duration.
With UCD down by three and 30 seconds remaining in overtime — in a strange twist of coincidence — Graham was fouled and once more stood at the free-throw line. He found redemption with two successful free throws, and was awarded with an enthusiastic reaction from Aggie fans.
But the relishing cries turned into regular cries when — not soon after — a Hail Mary pass to Burton provided him room to dunk the ball, making it 83-80. The Aggies did not recover from Burton’s signature last-minute turn of events, as the Wolf Pack did not falter in the final moments.
Thus, the anti-climatic end was an 87-81 win for the Wolf Pack, and UCD’s fifth straight defeat.
The situation will be difficult to improve as the Aggies travel to Palo Alto on Saturday in what will be a televised contest against the always difficult Stanford (6-2).
— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett.