Using a brand new lineup — rewarding players committed to defense — UC Davis ended its second-half nightmares in a 69-61 victory over Cal State Fullerton at The Pavilion on Saturday.
Another nice crowd of 2,216 watched as the Aggies snapped a three-game Big West Conference losing streak.
Trailing 42-37 with 10:26 left in the contest, UCD used a 3-pointer, a 12-foot jumper and a lay-in from Ryan Sypkens — along with an acrobatic scoop shot by Corey Hawkins — for a 9-0 run that put the locals in control.
“Defense. That was the key,” UCD captain Hawkins told the media. “Every good team that wins its conference is a good defensive team. (Saturday) we switched it up, zone to man, gave them a different look and that’s what we’re going to have to do to keep winning.”
Coach Jim Les, whose Aggies had allowed an average of 54.3 points in the second half of their last three outings, used sophomores Olivier-Paul Betu and Justin Dueck in the starting five.
Only in the 80-54 win back on Nov. 11 against Division-II applicant Holy Names had UCD allowed fewer points this season. Riverside was outscored 46-32 in the final stanza.
For Dueck, it was his first start; for Betu, his second.
The idea, said Les, was to commit to players that were committed to defense.
“Defense has been an area that we needed to address,” Les explained. “We did some tough defensive drills (Friday) and I thought Justin and O.B. embraced it and really played well in practice.
“If I’m going to hold true to my word and say defense is important — and that’s what we’re stressing — then I have to back it up and put the guys in the game who are doing that in practice.
“They earned it. (We) have confidence in both of those guys. I think they stepped up.”
Betu is a 6-foot-2 guard from Montreal who had never played more that 15 minutes with the Aggies. On this night he logged 21 minutes, made four steals, had three assists and three rebounds.
In Betu’s time on the court, UCD outscored Fullerton, 33-21.
Dueck had five boards in his career-high 22 minutes. He also had an assist, but his main job was clogging the middle, redirecting Titan paint prowlers.
At 6-8, mission accomplished for the Leland High (San Jose) grad.
The duo scored but one point between, but the Aggies won. Les’ point was taken about defense winning games.
“It carried over. I give credit to the guys coming in off the bench,” said the third-year UCD coach. “They didn’t sulk … bury themselves with a bad attitude. They came in with a vengeance and picked up on the energy that (Betu and Dueck) provided.”
Hawkins said the Aggies have to keep making adjustments, but looked back to Thursday’s locker room atmosphere as a wakeup call:
“Frustration, disappointment, anger. Anything you could think of. To give up that lead with that amount of time left was disappointing. It was tough. We put ourselves in that situation,” Hawkins said about his team blowing a 19-point, second-half lead against UC Riverside in Thursday’s 81-69 loss. “We basically came together and said enough is enough.”
Hawkins, playing with an eye scratch that forced him to sit the final 14 minutes against the Highlanders, led all scorers Saturday with 22 points.
Sypkens had 15 and now stands at No. 4 all-time in the Big West with 285 treys. Sypkens jumped UNLV’s Anderson Hunt and Utah State’s Tony Brown who each had 283 treys.
Sypkens also had three of the Aggies’ six blocked shots and finished 5-for-10 shooting in the game.
UCD held CSUF to 29.4 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes. Although outrebounded, 41-28, the Aggies were able to force 17 turnovers while committing but 10.
Lex Harris (19 points) and Michael Williams (13) led the Titans. Steve McClellan pulled down 13 rebounds.
Notes: Fullerton is now 6-11 (1-2 in league). UCD is 6-13, 1-3. … The Titans are coached by former Aggie player Dedrique Taylor (1995-97). Taylor also assisted at UCD during the 2000-01 season. … Les wore a light gold suit. Now that the losing streak is over, will we see that ensemble on Thursday when Hawaii visits The Pavilion? “I’m going to sleep in it. Ah! I needed it. I needed that W badly. As much as (the players) needed it,” Les said. … The Josh Ritchart Watch is almost over. Les stopped just short of saying the 6-9 forward will be medical redshirted. The Auburn native still has pain in his leg, according to the coach. … Former UCD basketball players gathered this weekend for a reunion and formed a greeting line as Les’ lineup took the floor. … The two squads combined for only 10 assists, but Les didn’t care that the Aggies had only six of those. He said the Titans played the shooters on the perimeter, so penetrating ball-handlers continued on to the basket most of the night. In hitting 23-of-48 shots, it was a good idea.