The UC Davis women’s basketball team is going to be younger in the 2012-13 campaign, while the Big West Conference makeup should provide intensified competition.
It sounds intimidating, but Aggie head coach Jennifer Gross expressed nothing but confidence in her team’s potential as UCD gets set for its season opener against Pepperdine on Friday (7 p.m.) at The Pavilion.
Even after losing five senior standouts to graduation, the second-year mentor believes the Aggie scoring will be found by committee.
But if the altered roster expects a good showing in the increasingly tough Big West — which includes newly added University of Hawaii — it may have to rely on a bit of something that the program hasn’t leaned on in a while: luck.
After UCD won the Big West title in 2010-11 to make the program’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament in longtime head coach Sandy Simpson’s final season, the Aggies’ all-time wins leader turned the reins over to Gross, who was his top lieutenant.
The former Aggie point guard carried that energy onward to a 17-12 finish last season. With aspirations high for another berth in The Big Dance, UCD was edged out by Pacific in the conference tournament quarterfinals.
The Aggies fell to the Tigers 59-51, which was the exact opposite score and outcome from a meeting earlier in the season between the UCD squad and its rivals from Stockton.
“We had lost a few contributors from the team that went to the NCAA tournament (in 2010-11),” said Gross, who served six years as a lead assistant for the Aggies prior to becoming head coach. “We still had a really veteran group that won some really big games for us.”
Now, after picking up five freshmen and changing the roles of some of its remaining two seniors and four juniors, Gross said UCD is likely to look drastically different in 2012-13.
An indicator that the change may not be such a bad thing was the Aggies claiming a 78-46 exhibition victory over the University of Redlands on Thursday.
In that contest, UCD sophomore Sydnee Fipps made her case to be a go-to player, registering a double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds. One of the freshman additions, Heidi Johnson, nearly recorded a double-double of her own, ending with 11 points and nine rebounds.
“We’re talented and deep,” Gross said. “More than anything, we’re a tight-knit group that cares about each other and wants to do it together. I’m really excited about this year and where we can go.”
The local women will get their first official test against Pepperdine, and Gross said the Aggies are looking forward to getting the season under way in front of a big home crowd.
“It would make a tremendous difference,” she said. “I played here back in the day, when the Aggie Pack was getting started. We have really loyal fans now.
“Coming out and supporting these ladies, it’s a fun evening. I hope that more and more people will give us an opportunity to show what we’ve got and see a high level of basketball.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8052.