The Aggie women were finally in the pink.
Playing with late UC Davis basketball star Genevieve Costello in their hearts, the locals snapped a three-game losing streak Saturday and sent Hawaii limping back to paradise nursing a 56-52 setback.
Played in front of 512 fans at The Pavilion, the game showcased the Aggies’ best defensive outing of the season (against a Division I opponent) — and, to a player, was the most inspired effort of a see-saw Big West Conference slate.
“This was pride for all of us,” UCD leading scorer Sydnee Fipps told The Enterprise. “I get pretty emotional talking about it, but I can’t imagine losing a teammate at such a young age. These are all my best friends and I can’t imagine losing one of them.”
Costello, whose memory and attending family were honored at halftime, died in the spring of 2013 — only months after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She was just 26.
The Aggies (11-14, 6-6) sported pink uniforms with Costello’s name on the back and a “GC12″ patch on the front.
Hawaii (14-11, 8-5) came into the game as the league’s top defensive squad (63.3 ppg). And the two teams didn’t disappoint as they battled to a 23-23 halftime tie — each shooting 8-for-23 from the floor.
The Rainbow Wahine looked for all the world like they would take control after the break when UCD missed its first five shots. Hawaii’s six consecutive second-period points had it on an 11-0 run that started just before intermission.
With her team now trailing 29-23, Aggie Idit Oryon’s jumper stopped the madness. Later, when Fipps’ twisting layup settled in, UCD had come all the way back, 31-31, with 14:26 to go.
But a layup and 3-pointer by UH guard Dana Moore was followed by Ashleigh Karaitiana’s short jumper and — presto! — it was Hawaii by seven, 43-36, with just over 10 minutes left.
When UCD lost 64-50 on Oahu Jan. 23, it was the Wahine dominating down the stretch.
However, with UH (14-11, 8-5) leading 45-39, on Saturday, the game changed at a media timeout at 7:58.
The Aggies would go on a 16-7 close-out surge — punctuated by guard Molly Greubel’s monster 3-pointer with 45 seconds to go. It put UCD up, 55-49.
“I told Molly, I thought there was a little Genevieve angel on that 3-pointer because Molly just stepped up — and that was exactly the kind of shot Genevieve would have hit for us,” said UCD coach Jennifer Gross.
With frontliners Oryon, Alyson Doherty and Celia Marfone being the chief causes of Hawaii missing 11 of its last 12 shots, the Aggies turned the tables from that January setback.
In addition to solid defense, UCD shot 52.4 percent from the floor after the break and was in free-throw bonus time for the final 13:45 (although hitting 15-of-26 — 57.7 percent — charity tosses was nothing to write home about).
“Give a lot of credit to individual players on our team stepping up, making plays … playing so hard defensively,” Gross added. “I thought Idit down the stretch grabbed some key rebounds for us.
“This was a big one. This gives us the confidence to know we can do this, and we will do this.”
Sitting mid-pack in the Big West, UCD (11-14, 6-6) has four games left in the regular season to climb in the standings. A fourth-place finish earns a first-round bye in the conference postseason tournament, set for March 11-15 in Southern California.
Next up for the Aggies are roads games at Cal Poly (15-11, 9-4) on Thursday and UC Santa Barbara (8-17, 3-9) Saturday.
Sophomore post Doherty, who finished with 15 points, was asked what adjustments the Aggies made to produce maybe their finest hour:
“To be honest, it was just personal pride — we were not losing that game. We (played) that last eight minutes with that mind-set.
“We had each other’s backs.”
Notes: For the umpteenth time in the last two years, junior Fipps led all scorers with 22 points. She scored nine of her team’s first 11 points and eventually contributed four rebounds. … Hawaii crushed the Aggies on the boards, 43-29 — but not when the chips were down. … UCD derailed the Pineapple Express, which played without leading scorer Kamilah Jackson (ankle). Jackson was averaging 16.5 ppg before bowing out Feb. 13 vs. UC Riverside. Destiny King scored 12 for the visitors, Shawna-Lei Kuehi had 10 and Kalei Adolpho came off the bench to collect 11 rebounds. … Kelsey Harris is one trey from tying Kimberly Smith (72) for third-most Aggie 3-pointers all-time. … Fipps is now UCD’s 11th most prolific scorer. … From the Don’t Forget That Stat Dept.: “And we only had nine turnovers,” Fipps said afterward. “Don’t forget to put that in the article.” … Former Aggie women’s coach Sandy Simpson and Associated Athletic Director Nona Richardson joined the Costello Family at halfcourt for a tribute to Genevieve. Sports Information Director Mike Robles compiled a nice video look-back at Costello’s UCD career (2005-09). UCD has partnered with the UC Davis Health System in accepting donations in the fight against cancer. Visit https://secure.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/giving/donations/online.html for more information. … Gross and assistant coach/husband Joe Teramoto announced that a new Aggie guard is on the way. Gross told The Enterprise that the couple is expecting a baby girl in June. Gross and Teramoto already have a son, 2 1/2 year-old Josh. … In other Big West games Saturday, UC Irvine knocked off Cal State Northridge, 76-72, and Cal Poly beat UC Riverside, 83-72, to put the Matadors and Mustangs in a first-place tie at 9-3. UC Santa Barbara defeated Cal State Fullerton, 64-54.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.