By Joseph D’Hippolito
IRVINE — UC Davis’ recent offensive problems sabotaged the Aggies’ hopes of reaching the quarterfinals of the Big West Conference women’s basketball tournament.
Seventh-seeded UCD established a season low for points and shot just 23.3 percent on Tuesday in a 61-40 loss to Cal State Northridge in the first round of the league tourney at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center.
The Aggies (12-18) end the season with three consecutive defeats and six losses in their final eight games.
Despite finishing third in the conference in points per game, UCD surpassed 50 points only three times in eight contests during the past four weeks.
“If you look at us offensively, I feel like we’re very close, very close, very close,” said Aggie coach Jennifer Gross, a former UCD point guard. “Then, we’re just a little off.”
Being even a little off against the sixth-seeded Matadors (16-15) would prove devastating.
“Northridge came out with a lot of energy and really great urgency,” Gross said. “They brought really good pressure.”
The Matadors held an 8-2 lead before sophomore Sydnee Fipps made a pair of 3-pointers in a 22-second span to force an 8-8 tie. But the Aggies got just two points — both on free throws — over the ensuing 7 minutes, 44 seconds, as Northridge extended its advantage to 27-10 with 8:40 left before halftime.
In the second half, Alyson Doherty led a 10-0 surge that narrowed UCD’s deficit to 46-38 with 5:28 to play. Doherty amassed seven points, a rebound and a steal during the spree.
But the Aggies would not score again until Celia Marfone made a short jumper with 4.2 seconds remaining. Northridge led by as many as 23 points.
“That was as good as we’ve played in a while,” said Matadors coach Jason Flowers, who added that a calm backcourt provided the critical element.
“Their defense is different than anything that’s played in our conference,” Flowers added. “In both games earlier this year, we thought we didn’t handle the pressure really well. The biggest difference was the guards handled the pressure.”
Fipps noticed the difference from the Aggies’ 61-46 victory over Northridge on Jan. 17.
“In our first game, we were able to force them into a lot more turnovers,” said Fipps, who led UCD with 13 points and eight rebounds.
The Matadors’ superior height also helped. Northridge blocked six shots and outrebounded the Aggies, 40-33. Camille Mahlknecht blocked four shots, grabbed eight rebounds and scored 11 points.
Also for Northridge, Violet Alama and Ashlee Guay scored 14 points apiece, with Guay securing eight rebounds. Haley White added 12 points and seven rebounds.
Despite the loss, Gross feels encouraged by her team’s growing cohesion.
“We have a very, very young team and we knew that we were going to have our challenges,” Gross said. “The thing that I’m most proud of is how unified we stayed through everything. Whatever happened, good or bad, we dealt with it together. There was never any pointing fingers.”
With nine players scheduled to return, Gross also feels optimistic about the future.
“We have a number of players,” she said, “who are right on the edge of being really great.”
Notes: Those nine UCD returners include All-Big West first-teamer Fipps, and two members of the conference’s all-freshman squad, Doherty and Molly Greubel. … The Aggies will lose seniors Cortney French and Blair Shinoda, who each scored four points on Tuesday. Shinoda led UCD with three assists. … The Matadors advance to Wednesday’s quarterfinals, where they will face No. 4 UC Santa Barbara. Earlier Tuesday, eighth-seeded Cal State Fullerton upset No. 5 Long Beach State, 54-48. The Titans set up a matchup with No. 3 Hawaii in the quarters.