It came down to shots in the clutch and overcoming turnovers.
Three times, the UC Davis women’s basketball team shrank a one-time 14-point Sacramento State lead to a mere basket before falling, 84-78, in a real Causeway Classic at The Pavilion on Saturday.
Against a Hornet squad that is No. 4 in the country in scoring, the Aggies matched just one other Sac State opponent when they held their visitors at or under 84 points. The Hornets (8-1) came in averaging 92.3 points per game.
UCD (4-8) committed 30 turnovers, but managed to stay in the contest by hitting 51.9 percent of its shots.
In first-year coach Bunky Harkleroad’s shoot-shoot-shoot offense, Sacramento State had 74 attempts from the field, hitting 28 (37.8 percent), including 12-of-33 from 3-point range.
It was enough to keep the Big Sky Conference Hornets in front.
“We have to find a way to learn from our mistakes,” third-year UCD head coach Jen Gross said afterward. “Sac State is a heckuva basketball team and they force you to play a certain way … and find a way to turn you over.”
Kelsey Harris — who scored a career-high 19 for UCD — nailed a 3-pointer to give her team a 21-20 advantage with 11:14 left in the opening half, but from there to intermission Sacramento State forced eight local turnovers and went on a 24-13 run to halftime.
The Hornets led 44-34 at the break, thanks in part to the Aggies’ 16 turnovers at that point.
In the locker room, Gross and Company regrouped.
A match-up zone and inspired play inside were keys as UCD trailed by only two points on three occasions down the stretch.
However, each time the Hornets answered.
With Sac State up only 67-65 after a Harris lay-in at 7:11, Takara Burse’s 3-pointer was followed by a Fantasia Hilliard bucket.
Two Sydnee Fipps free throws had the score at 78-76 with 1:12 remaining, but Hilliard and Gigi Hascheff sank Hornet charity tosses.
Still, it wasn’t over …
Fipps — who finished with 21 points — went strong inside to make it 80-78 with 15 seconds to go.
But Burse was wide open on transition for an easy layup and, after a missed Fipps shot, Hilliard was fouled and sank both free throws for the final margin of victory.
“Great atmosphere,” Harkleroad said after his first rivalry game with UCD. “It was a great women’s basketball environment. I am thrilled and honored to be a part of it. It was exciting.”
Harkleroad came late to Sacramento this season after Jamie Craighead accepted the same women’s basketball position at San Jose State. Harkleroad’s Glenville State (West Virginia) had a 27-4 record in 2012-13, when he was a finalist for Division II Coach of the Year.
“UC Davis had a great game plan and I knew they’d be hard to handle for us because they’re long and they have some kids that can finish,” he explained. “(UCD) was well-organized, did some things to disrupt us and we were fortunate to hang on.”
It marked the Hornets’ fifth consecutive victory by six or fewer points.
For Fipps, it was her fourth consecutive 20-plus-point game. She added a game-high 14 rebounds.
“She’s tough to stop,” said Aggie Hall of Famer Gross. “We wanted to get her the ball in places where she could be close to the basket and attack. When we did that, I thought we executed well. She is tough to handle one-on-one.”
Iowa State transfer Harris was 7-for-12 from the field (3-of-7 from beyond the arc) while grabbing seven rebounds.
Gross says her two juniors, Harris and Fipps, are starting to build chemistry and that bodes well for UCD as Big West Conference play looms large in early January.
Meanwhile, Aggie forwards Lauren Beyer and Heidi Johnson continued their emerging play.
Beyer is back from a horrific leg injury two season ago and contributed eight points, two blocks and two nifty assists.
Johnson had 10 rebounds, four points, a block and two assists.
UCD guard Molly Greubel added nine points and dished three assists while backcourt sister Brianna Salvatore had eight points and one of three Aggie steals.
Hornet junior guard Burse earned game-high honors with her 22 points. Just two weeks ago, Burse had screws removed from her leg. She hasn’t missed a game this season. Shanti Smith added 12 for Sac State and Hascheff (11) and Hilliard (10) also were in double digits.
Next up for UCD is a Thursday (4:45 p.m.) home outing against Simpson College of Redding (6-9). It’s part of a men’s-women’s doubleheader at The Pavilion as the Aggie men meet Simpson (1-14) at 7 p.m.
Notes: Alyson Doherty returned from her illness after missing three games. Coming off the UCD bench, Doherty had three points and two rebounds in 10 minutes. … Celia Marfone (leg) is still out and Gross says “we’re still waiting on doctor’s reports” as to when the Laguna Hills sophomore will return. … “We’ll really use this week to get better, fine-tune all our skills — learn from what we’ve done so far and just continue that momentum forward,” Fipps told The Enterprise. “When we play Northridge (Jan. 9 at UCD in the Big West opener), it’s going to be a whole new team. We’re really going to improve this week.” … Sacramento State opens Big Sky play Thursday at home with Montana State, then plays Montana on Saturday.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-320-4456.