“At this point of the season, these are must-win games for us,” says UC Davis head coach Jennifer Gross as her Aggie women try to improve on their three-game win streak.
Home games with UC Riverside on Thursday (7 p.m.) and UC Irvine on Saturday (2 p.m.) end the Big West Conference regular season — and the red-hot Aggies hope they can improve on their fourth-place league position.
As it stands, UCD (13-14, 8-6) is one game ahead of Long Beach State, the Anteaters and Cal State Fullerton. If the Aggies hold their ground, they will earn a first-round bye in next week’s BWC postseason tournament.
Cal State Northridge (15-14, 11-4) has clinched the No. 1 tourney seed while the locals hope to climb up the ladder to pass at least No. 3 Hawaii (15-11, 9-5).
“To be at home, and have home-court advantage for us, is huge,” Gross told The Enterprise. “But only if we can get the community behind us.”
UCD has averaged 431 fans in its last three home games — including a season-low 331 for the Feb. 13 loss to Fullerton.
The Aggie women are drawing bigger crowds on the road than at The Pavilion.
Not to beat a dead horse (with apologies to mascot Gunrock), but Gross believes the women’s court product is worthy of better attendance — especially for the final two home games.
“Having won the last three — two in a tough road trip against Cal Poly and Santa Barbara — I’m hoping people are seeing that this is a really great basketball team that we have here.
“We’re getting momentum heading into the playoffs, so having a great crowd there to support us is going to be super-important.”
First, last-place UCR (6-21, 2-12) comes bouncing on to campus Thursday.
The Highlanders are paced by the league’s top scorer in Brittany Crain (18.9 ppg) — and Riverside is playing improved basketball.
It has split its last four, narrowly losing to front-running Northridge, 77-75, on Saturday. UCR has some motivation in its final two outings. The Highlanders trail UC Santa Barbara (8-19, 3-11) by just one game for the final postseason spot (eight of the nine Big West squads qualify for the Southern California tourney).
Meanwhile, UCD has been getting its usual 20-point outings from the brilliant Syndee Fipps, has seen post player Alyson Doherty blossom in the paint and is getting top-notch performances from emerging players like point guard Molly Greubel and wing Celia Marfone.
Marfone (12 points and 12 rebounds) was outstanding in Thursday’s win at Cal Poly.
Greubel, the sophomore from Foothill High (Santa Ana), was perfect in Saturday’s 65-47 victory at UCSB. In scoring 14 points, she hit all four shots from the field and went 5-for-5 at the charity strip.
The Gauchos didn’t know which way to turn on defense as Fipps added 18 points with eight rebounds and Doherty had 15 points and seven boards.
“The Pavilion can be such a special environment and when we get the student section going with the community support, it creates that sixth-man kind of advantage that we’ve kind of been missing,” Gross continued.
“We’d love to have people come out and support us this week.”
Notes: Speaking of that sixth man, at last Saturday’s men’s game, ESPN2 was in the house and more than 5,200 turned out. Among the fanatics were the front-row Aggie Pack Blue Crew. With former Davis High student Brandon Hassid and his painted pals spelling out “Go UC Davis Aggies! 26,000 horsepower,” they helped make the setting electric. Hopefully Hassid and his fellow students heed Gross’ plea. … Northridge won both its games last week, thanks to Big West Player of the Week Janae Sharpe averaging 23 ppg. Doherty also was nominated for the honor. … UCD is 29-19 all-time against Riverside, including a 77-67 road win on Jan. 16.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.