“Find the shooter! Find the shooter!” was the constant yell from Simpson assistant coach Adrian Russell on Thursday at The Pavilion.
But the Red Hawks men’s basketball team could never find “the shooter” Russell was talking about: UC Davis senior Ryan Sypkens.
Sypkens, who was one of the best 3-point shooters in the nation last year, hit a school-record 10 treys to help the Aggies start the new year off on the right track with a 93-69 blowout of NAIA Division II Simpson.
The sharpshooting Sypkens entered the game averaging just over 10 points per game and had not been satisfied with his performances throughout the first part of the season.
“I really expected myself to be playing a lot better. I’ve been struggling to shoot the ball and I’ve been getting frustrated, down on myself, and it’s been affecting my game,” Sypkens said after scoring 30 points. “But the last few weeks, I’ve been really on myself and getting my head back, doing some visualization — that has helped a lot actually — and that’s really what it was.
“I really came in with the utmost confidence the last few weeks and I’ve been successful and I’m going to keep that going.”
And Sypkens wasn’t just jacking up threes indiscriminately to get his points. After the former Franklin High star made 10-of-14 from beyond the arc, UCD head coach Jim Les praised Sypkens’ shot selection.
“Ryan’s an elite shooter,” Les said. “I thought he was really good at being selective and especially early in the game, waiting for ‘his shot.’ When he shoots ‘his shot’ he’s as good as anybody in the country.
“I thought he was patient to get the good shots for him, and once he got into a little bit of a rhythm, I thought his teammates did a great job of looking for him and finding him.”
However, even though they ended up shooting 53.3 percent from the field (and made 44 percent from downtown), the Aggies came out a bit slow, needing nearly 2:30 to score their first field goal.
“Initially against the zone, it was kind of feeling out what (Simpson) was going to do in the zone, and where the hot spots were,” Les explained. “I thought the guys did a nice job of finding where the weak spots were; we attacked the middle, we attacked the corners.”
And when UCD found those weak spots, it became a long night for Simpson.
Sypkens hit many of his 3-pointers from the corners, but he also made a couple of NBA-range long balls. By the end of the first half, he had drained six shots from downtown and put the Aggies up 45-26 at intermission.
The 6-foot-4 guard got a little help from his friends as fellow starters Iggy Nujic (14 points, eight rebounds), Georgi Funtarov (10 points, nine boards) and Corey Hawkins (19 points, seven assists) each performed well.
“I really liked our ball movement offensively,” Les said. “We had 23 assists (Thursday) and that’s a good sign that we’re giving up good shots to get great shots.”
But it was Sypkens’ night as, with 13:44 left in the second half, he broke the single-game school record he had shared with Hawkins and Tyler Les by taking a pass in the corner and dropping in his ninth 3-pointer.
On the other end of the court, Sypkens said the Aggies made many of the same mistakes that have hurt them in losing eight of their past nine games, but they did make some strides:
“Honestly, I don’t think we played, as a team, our best game defensively,” Sypkens continued. “I think we messed up a lot on rotations and we need to improve that if we want a chance to win a lot of games in conference. We’re moving in the right direction.”
Notes: With Big West play set to begin next Thursday on the road at Cal State Northridge, Les said that UCD senior Josh Ritchart and freshman Brynton Lemar are still day-to-day with injuries. The coach added that he will likely have to ease both back into the rotation: neither will be forced into big minutes right away.
— Reach Thomas Oide at firstname.lastname@example.org