The only thing keeping it from being a recurring nightmare is the fact that it’s quite real — too real for Corey Hawkins and the rest of the UC Davis men’s basketball team.
The Aggies’ woes continued on Saturday night, when they let yet another game wiggle out of their grasp. This time, they fell 74-64 to Big West conference rival Pacific at The Pavilion after leading at halftime and keeping the game close for much of the second period.
Hawkins, who scored a team-high 19 points, was exasperated by the loss, which was UCD’s sixth by 10 points or less this season.
“Pacific came out with more energy. They came out with a game plan and executed,” Hawkins said. “I think it’s a mental aspect with (us). I don’t think teams are necessarily stronger than us. We just have to toughen up.
“Other teams are pushing us and doing whatever they want. Why aren’t we doing it back?”
As in the other close losses, the Aggies (4-9, 0-2 Big West) were done in by the small things. This time around it was turnovers and free throws. UCD coughed the ball up to 18 times — resulting in 16 Tiger points — and connected on only 68 percent of its free throws.
The miscues were a major reason why Pacific was able to turn a 24-23 halftime deficit into a 34-25 lead in the first three minutes of the second period. They also prompted some harsh words from Aggie head coach Jim Les to his team in the locker room afterward.
“I thought our passive enthusiasm left something to be desired (Saturday). And I thought our willingness to play within the system left a lot to be desired. And those things will be unacceptable for me,” Les said. “I let them know that. And I expect it to change and I expect to change quickly.”
UCD attacked Pacific’s lead continuously in the second half and cut it to 42-40 with 10:40 to go. But the Aggies would get no closer as they couldn’t find a way hold onto the ball, or to stop Sama Taku, who poured in a game-high 20 points for the Tigers. Fittingly, it was Taku who got inside for a layup and buried a 3-pointer to put Pacific (7-7, 1-1) up 63-52 with 2:23 left, all but icing the game.
UCD got 14 points and seven rebounds from J.T. Adenrele, 10 points from Josh Ritchart and eight from Ryan Sypkens. It was Adenrele and Sypkens who gave the Aggies the lead before intermission.
Down 23-22 with less than a minute to go, Sypkens launched a pass across the lane to a cutting Adenrele, who caught the ball and slammed it home. Pacific had been leading since the 15-minute mark, but never by more than five.
While it’s still early in the season, at 0-2 in Big West play, the Aggies have to be mindful that unlike last year — when Cal State Northridge was academically ineligible and Hawaii wasn’t a member of the conference — they must finish at least eighth (out of 10) to make the season-ending league tournament.
UCD will get its first chance to dig itself out of the hole when Cal Poly comes to town on Thursday.
“We’ve got to get back to work. The guys are going to see the tape and, as I tell them all the time, the tape doesn’t lie. And we’ve got a lot of correcting to do,” Les said.
“I expect them to come back this week with a fire and intensity and make amends. They don’t feel good about themselves and they shouldn’t. It’s my job to hold them accountable and get them to respond.”
— Reach Will Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org