Like any squad with an abundance of that infuriating quality sometimes called youth and other times called inexperience, the UC Davis women’s basketball team has had its fair share of growing pains this season.
But those struggles appear to be receding as of late and it was especially apparent on Thursday night at The Pavilion. The Aggies surged to a 68-62 victory over Long Beach State, getting standout performances from their established players and their numerous up-and-comers.
Veterans Sydnee Fipps and Cortney French led the way for UCD (9-10, 4-4 Big West Conference) at the Pavilion with 29 and 17 points, respectively, while freshmen Molly Greubel, Alyson Doherty and Aniya Baker rounded things out with solid nights of their own.
Greubel had 10 points and seven rebounds, Doherty added five and nine, and Baker helped force the 49ers into 20 turnovers with her constant swarming defense.
“Everybody knows that they have an important role on this team,” said UCD head coach Jennifer Gross. “And from game to game, that role might change a little bit, but our goal is to kind of stay fresh, play as hard as we can, and everybody that suits up is getting in and contributing. I feel like we’ve really bought into that.”
Down the stretch against a strong LBSU squad (11-10, 4-4), it was Doherty and Fipps who took on the major roles.
With the game tied at 60-60 and 2:02 left on the clock, Doherty got a pass from French on the block and muscled her way around a defender for a layup and a foul. She made the ensuing free throw to give the Aggies a three-point lead.
After the 49ers countered with a pair of free throws, Doherty wrestled down an offensive rebound that set up a driving bucket from Fipps.
Point guard Blair Shinoda — who finished with three points and a team-high four assists — then made one from the charity stripe to put UCD up 66-62 with 32 seconds to go, effectively sealing the game.
“Our back was against the wall late there in the second half,” Gross said. “We had to get stops, we had to make plays, and we had different kids step up and do the job.”
The game was close throughout, with the largest lead coming with 7:55 left to play in the first period when the 49ers went up 26-19 on a jumper by Alex Sanchez.
Fipps (six rebounds) and French scored a combined 13 points in the next six minutes to give the Aggies a 34-31 advantage, before LBSU responded with four straight points to retake the lead before halftime.
The second period was more the same as neither team could get the upper hand until the final minutes.
Overall, the two squads matched each other in most statistical categories. Both shot 36 percent from the field and above 30 percent from long range.
With the victory, the Aggies extended their winning streak to three games. They now look ahead to a 2 p.m. Saturday game against UC Irvine. On paper, the Anteaters shouldn’t offer near as much of a challenge as the 49ers, as UCI comes into the game with an overall record of 4-15 (0-7 in BWC play).
A win Saturday would put UCD over the .500 mark in conference play for the first time this season.