If they can upset Big West-leading Long Beach State this week, the UC Davis men will know with certainty that college basketball fans across the country will take notice.
That’s because ESPN2 is making Thursday night’s matchup the first ever basketball game played in Davis to be televised nationally.
The Aggies (14-14, 9-7 in conference play) and the 49ers (17-11, 13-3) will go head to head beginning at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m and more than 5,000 fans are expected to pack The Pavilion.
“I’m excited for our university, our program and our community,” said UCD head coach Jim Les. “(The players) have worked extremely hard and made a lot of sacrifices and it’s great to see that pay off.”
For the Aggies, the game presents not only an opportunity to play on a far bigger stage, but also a chance to get back at the first-place 49ers, who beat UCD, 71-65, in Long Beach earlier this season.
But in that game, the locals were without guard Ryan Sypkens, who was sidelined with the flu. Sypkens is second on the team in scoring (14.4 points per game), sixth in the nation in 3-pointers made (99) — a number that has made him the program’s single-season record-holder — and 17th nationally in shooting percentage from beyond the arc (.474).
His return, along with the play of sophomores Corey Hawkins (13th in the country in scoring at 20.3 points per game) and J.T. Adenrele (12.8 ppg), has helped the Aggies to a 3-0 record since that loss at The Pyramid and should give the team added confidence heading into Thursday night’s game.
However, Les knows that even if the team continues to play at a high level, knocking off the 49ers will be no easy feat.
“Long Beach State is a good team. They’re not leading the league for any other reason than that they’re a good team,” he said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
UCD will have to find a way to contain James Ennis. The senior standout can attack defenses both in the paint and from the perimeter and is averaging 16.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists a game thus far this season.
If Ennis gets off to a fast start, the Aggies may put the equally versatile Ryan Howley on him. During the team’s 71-68 win at Cal State Fullerton on Saturday, Howley, who can play both forward and guard, managed to contain Titan star Kwame Vaughn down the stretch.
UCD also has to worry about 49ers guard Keala King and forward Tony Freeland, who had 22 and 18 points, respectively, the first time the two teams played.
One problem the team won’t have, according to Les, is dealing with the pressure of playing on national television.
“(The players) have played at Oklahoma State. They’ve played in a lot of different venues,” he said. “I think they’re excited and will be able to handle it.”
Notes: Aggie fans can expect plenty of promotions on Thursday night, including a body paint contest, a poster contest and a challenge among fraternities and sororities for which house has the most members in attendance. Winners of the contests will receive ski lift tickets and gift cards to local restaurants. In addition, all Jr. Aggie Club members who check in at the information booth will receive a certificate for a free frozen yogurt. … Tickets range from $5 to $15 and may be purchased by visiting www.ucdavisaggies.com, calling 530-752-AGS1 or at the box office before the game. … Aggie fans are asked to wear blue.
— Reach Will Bellamy at email@example.com