Fans will get their first real look at the 2012 edition of the UC Davis men’s basketball team when the Aggies play host to Northern Arizona on Sunday afternoon.
And they have reason to be optimistic about what they’ll see out of the home squad.
UCD looked strong in its season opener last Friday, giving athletic powerhouse and Big 12 contender Oklahoma State quite a scare in Stillwater. That day, the Aggies got 13 points from newcomer Corey Hawkins and 11 points and 13 rebounds from senior Ryan Howley, and had the game tied with five minutes left. But UCD couldn’t keep pace with the Cowboys — who were ranked 42nd in the nation heading into the season by Sports Illustrated — eventually falling 73-65.
Even more encouraging than the close final score was the rebounding margin. Last year, UCD was outrebounded by an average of six boards per game and struggled to close out defensive possessions — a major reason why it finished the season with an overall record of 5-26.
In Oklahoma, however, the Aggies outrebounded the much taller Cowboys, 43-29, and saw nine players grab at least one board.
“We’ve got to rebound by committee,” UCD head coach Jim Les told The Enterprise during the preseason. “We don’t necessarily have one dominant rebounder.”
Les also noted that if the Aggies could pair their already potent offense with an equally effective defense, they would be on their way to becoming a team that could go toe-to-toe with almost anyone:
“We’ve been really stressing defense and rebounding,” he said after UCD’s exhibition victory over Menlo College. “When our guys lock in and have energy and intensity at that end of the floor, good things happen and good things equate to us getting out and running, pushing the ball, and we’re a pretty explosive offensive team.
“If we can buy in to getting stops and having a defensive identity, this team is going to be a lot of fun to watch play.”
But the Aggies had trouble turning their boards into buckets against the Cowboys, connecting on only 41.8 percent of their shot attempts.
That less-than-stellar shooting performance might have been a product of offseason rust or having to go against a high-level defense. Regardless of the reason, it probably cost them the upset.
Look for UCD to find the net more often against the Wildcats. NAU is 0-2 heading into Sunday’s game and is coming off of a 92-54 loss to UNLV on Monday. In that contest, the Runnin’ Rebels shot 50 percent from the floor.
So far, it looks like Les is right about the Aggies being a fun team to watch. But fans can see for themselves at 2 p.m. Sunday at The Pavilion.
— Reach Will Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org