It could be that Hawaii brings out the best in the UC Davis men’s basketball team. Or that the Aggies bring out the worst in Hawaii.
Either way, UCD seems to like playing the Rainbow Warriors.
The Aggies completed a regular-season sweep of Hawaii on Thursday night, winning the Big West Conference matchup 89-65 at The Pavilion. Earlier in the year, UCD beat the Warriors 93-82 in Honolulu.
On Thursday, just like in the first meeting, the Aggies (10-13, 6-6) were rolling on all cylinders. They outrebounded Hawaii, 38-29, forced 17 turnovers and saw guard Ryan Sypkens set a new school records for 3-pointers in a season (88 and counting) and in a career (202 and counting). The junior from Elk Grove set the marks by nailing his first shot attempt of the night.
“I hit my first one and came into the timeout and everyone was like ‘Congrats,’ ” Sypkens said afterward. “Honestly, I had sort of forgotten about it and when everyone was like ‘Congrats’ I remembered. It felt good. It gave me a lot more confidence too as the game went on.”
Sypkens went on to connect four more times from deep as UCD made 11 3-pointers and shot 48.5 percent from the floor.
For Aggie head coach Jim Les, however, the most encouraging thing was the defense.
“That’s a team that had won five in a row and they’re scoring in the 80s in those five wins and we hold them to 65. So defensively, our energy and discipline were really good,” Les said. “And then rebounding. That’s one of the top 20 rebounding teams in the country and we outrebounded them by nine and did it with a really good community effort.”
UCD also got off to a fast start. After Sypkens, who had 17 points on the night, hit his record-breaking three in the third minute, the Aggies began to surge. With the former Franklin High standout converting time after time from beyond the arc and Corey Hawkins (21 points) attacking defenders on drives in and around the rim, UCD roared out to a 47-31 halftime lead.
In the second half, the Aggies only continued to dominate and went up by as many as 28 points down the stretch. Along the way, they got contributions from nearly everyone on the roster.
J.T. Adenrele finished with 10 points and five rebounds, Ryan Howley added five and 10, and guards Paolo Mancasola and Tyler Les each scored 11 points.
Even subs like Clint Bozner (six points and five rebounds) and Tyler Ott (six points on 2-of-2 shooting from deep) got into the action.
“Corey and Sype were drawing so much attention,” Les said. “We made the next play. We gave up some good shots to get great shots and made the extra pass. We’re a tough team. If you’re going to focus on one or two guys, we’ve got other guys who we feel can step up. Once the other guys stepped up, it loosened things up for Corey and Sype to go get their opportunities.”
That strong performance was made even more impressive the Aggies’ opponent. Far from a pushover, Hawaii (15-10, 9-5) came into the game in second place in the Big West standings.
Now, the question is whether the sixth-place Aggies can replicate their success against a different, but far less intimidating team in Cal State Northridge (13-13, 4-0, next to last place) on Saturday at The Pavilion. A win would guarantee UCD a spot in the Big West tournament and inch them closer to possibly grabbing a first-round home game.
“We are where we want to be,” Les said. “And that’s mid-February, league games that mean something. I told the team that we control our destiny. We’ve got to focus on us and playing hard and win as many games as we can here coming down the stretch. That’s going to lead to some really positive momentum when we get to Anaheim (for the Big West Tournament).”
Notes: UCD forward Josh Ritchart missed the game with an ankle injury. Les said his status is day-to-day. … The Aggies like setting records against Hawaii. In the Jan. 19 matchup on the Island, Hawkins set the school’s single-game scoring mark with 40 points and tied the UCD benchmark of eight 3-pointers in a contest (also held by Sypkens and Tyler Les). In that game, the Aggies also tied a team record with 16 treys. … On Thursday, Hawkins had five rebounds and five assists to go along with his game-high 21 points. … Two UCD students — Tyicia DeLoney and Greg Dumas got engaged at midcourt during the halftime break. “It’s a good thing we won,” said Jim Les. “I hate to get an engagement started off with a loss. That would have been bad.”
— Reach Will Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org