For two minutes, it looked like the UC Davis women’s basketball team was off and running in the Big West Conference.
Heidi Johnson scored inside, Sydnee Fipps burned net with a deep trey, then Kelsey Harris made a little behind-the-arc magic.
With Aggie wing Brianna Salvatore assisting on all three baskets, the locals were cruising, up 8-0.
But a just-like-that 24-6 Cal State Northridge run turned the tables and UCD never really recovered.
When the final horn blew, the Matadors had stolen the Big West opener at The Pavilion, 56-52, before a disappointed crowd of 483.
“Anytime you look at a game that’s close, there are so many different things that could go either way,” said UCD coach Jennifer Gross. “It was an evenly matched game and we were right there.”
The tail of the tape, however, says advantage Northridge.
UCD shot 34 percent to 41.2 for CSUN. The Aggies were outrebounded, 39-30, outscored in the paint, 30-14, and scalded on fast-break points, 12-0.
Nineteen turnovers led to 24 Matador points.
“We have to do a better job taking care of the ball,” UCD guard Kelsey Harris told The Enterprise. “Our turnovers led to open layups for them — and that’s hard to stop.”
Turnovers — as many as 30 in a game this year — have been an ongoing bugaboo for the 5-9 Aggies. Does Harris think the problem is fixable?
“Yeah. It’s been an emphasis in practice … but we’ve got to make better decisions.”
Harris paced all UCD scorers with 12 points.
After the hosts jumped out to that early lead, Northridge (5-10) put some pressure on the Aggies, who turned the ball over on six of their next 10 possessions.
Three buckets and a free throw by All-Big West guard Ashlee Guay fueled the Matadors, who took their first lead at 12-10 when Cinnamon Lister canned a trey — the first of her game-high 15 points — at 13:59.
Janae Sharp’s lay-in with 90 seconds left before intermission was the half’s last basket and gave the visitors a 35-24 lead.
It would be CSUN’s largest margin as the Aggies battled back.
So complete was the UCD comeback that sophomore Molly Greubel’s jumper tied things at 41-41 with 8:44 remaining.
But guess what?
Four Aggie turnovers let Northridge ease back out to a 54-47 lead when Guay sank two charity tosses with less than a minute to go.
Horrible Aggie passing led to four Matador steals at the top of the key, resulting in easy scores. Of UCD’s 19 turnovers, 15 were thanks to Northridge steals.
Center Camille Mahlknecht and Guay each had four takeaways.
“Turnovers (13) were definitely something that hurt us in the first half,” Gross said. “I thought we played a really good second half, but we got ourselves in a hole in that first half.”
Fipps was held to 11 points, snapping a string of five straight games with more than 20 points.
She was limited to 3-of-11 shooting from the floor and knocked around in the paint as Matador coach Jason Flowers recognized the Mariposa junior was someone his team had to control:
“Our deal coming into conference … (was that) our defense wasn’t at the level that we wanted it to be,” Flowers said. “That’s why our record was what it was.
“We have a lot of respect for Jen and the (Princeton-style) offense she runs. We have a lot of respect for Fipps … what she’s accomplished in this league.”
UCD post Alyson Doherty had a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) and three assists and Salvatore and Greubel each canned 6.
“Obviously, we would have loved to come away with the win, but our goals are still very much intact,” Gross said of her Aggies. “I really believe in this team.”
Next up for UCD is a Saturday meeting with Long Beach State (2 p.m. at The Pavilion). The 49ers (9-6) are coming off an 84-75 come-from-behind win against UC Irvine.
Notes: In other Big West action, UC Riverside lost to Cal State Fullerton, 82-78, while Hawaii was upended on Wednesday by visiting Cal Poly, 78-74. … The Aggie defense has been sparkling the past four games. Allowing an average of 61 an outing, the figure includes an 85-78 loss to Sacramento State. The Hornets (11-1) are hitting for 95 ppg, third most in the nation.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-320-4456.