Sometimes, youth just doesn’t know any better …
And given the tender ages of a majority of UC Davis women’s basketball players going into Tuesday’s Big West Conference tournament, who’s to say these Aggies won’t be the upstart of the postseason?
“For sure we can be the surprise team,” sophomore forward Syndee Fipps told The Enterprise. “I don’t think anybody believes in us but us. We’re going to go down there and play with a lot of heart, make a lot of adjustments … and show them what Aggie Pride is all about. And take it to them.”
Before fans start tut-tutting Fipps — who found out Monday she was named to the all-conference first team — note that the five UCD freshmen have played vital roles in the locals’ 12-17 season (7-11 in Big West play). The Aggies are seeded seventh in the season-ending tournament.
It must also be noted that Davis’ foe, No. 6 Cal State Northridge, is 1-1 against the Aggies this season and has been trying to figure out how to replace the 13 ppg of sharpshooter Marti Masoni, who quit the team five games ago.
Game time is 8:30 p.m. at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center.
Adding to the intrigue is that UCD is coming off of a wrestle-to-the-mat 59-54 loss Saturday to Big West champion Pacific and has split with No. 2 Cal Poly in 2012-13.
“I liked our defense against Pacific,” said Aggie coach Jennifer Gross. “It bodes well coming into the tournament. I feel good about where we are … our mind-set is right. The focus is there.”
Gross thinks her charges are learning to play together and have their best basketball ahead of them. The question is, could a quantum leap take place this week?
Northridge (15-15, 9-9) finished a notch above UCD in the Big West regular season. The Matadors beat Davis, 51-49 on Feb. 16 when star guard Ashley Guay hit a last-second layup. UCD was crippled by shooting only 20 percent in that second half.
A month before, the Ags had handled Northridge, 61-46, when Aggie freshman Aniya Baker had her coming-out party with a 15-point performance.
Baker has been injured for the past two weeks and is listed as day-to-day by Gross.
With or without a full complement of Aggies, Gross says her women are ready — especially as seniors Blair Shinoda and Courtney French take their final bows.
“She still amazes me, night after night,” the second-year head coach says of guard Shinoda, who Gross adds is a terrific ball distributor, but can “attack the basket when we need that big score.”
French, in averaging almost 11 points a game, trails only Phipps (17.2 ppg) in the Aggie scoring column. Her 60 made 3-pointers were fourth in the Big West for a UCD squad that converted 200 tries from beyond the arc (31 percent).
One area of concern for the Aggies will be rebounding.
The locals finished dead last in the conference in total caroms and Northridge was the second-best offensive rebounding team in the conference.
Camile Mahlkneckt (seven boards a night) and Violet Alama (5.9) lead the Matadors inside, but it’s second-team All-Big West performer Guay who may be the UCD defense’s focal point.
Besides beating the Aggies last time out, sophomore Guay has averaged 13.4 ppg and had 120 assists, 101 rebounds and 90 steals.
Guay was a key ingredient when the Matadors went into Pauley Pavilion and upset then-No. 12 UCLA, 79-77, on Dec. 20.
“Northridge has a number of talented scorers,” Gross said in an assessment during a Monday Big West teleconference. “It’s a team that rebounds the ball extremely well. The upset of UCLA shows they can play with anyone. Our games with them have come down to the wire, so it’s going to be a battle.
“We’re looking forward to it.”
Notes: Tuesday’s opener between No. 8 Cal State Fullerton and No. 5 Long Beach State is slated for 6 p.m. … UCD won’t be the only young team on the floor Tuesday. Matadors Guay, Mahlknecket and Janae Sharp (12.4 ppg) are sophomores. … “It comes down to who makes the biggest adjustments — looking at the film, seeing where we can improve, (breaking down) the other team’s weaknesses and exploit them,” Fipps told The Enterprise. … Joining Fipps on the postseason honors squad were Aggies French (honorable mention) and freshman-team members Allison Doherty and Molly Greubel. … former UCLA player and third-year Northridge coach Jason Flowers says UCD is no one-trick pony with its back-door-knocking Princeton offense: “They do some other things on offense that’s just as threatening as throwing up these 3-pointers.” … If UCD advances — and Long Beach State wins as expected — the Aggies next meet Hawaii at 6 p.m. Wednesday. A win Wednesday would send the local into Friday’s semifinals at the Honda Center in Anaheim. …In 2011, as a No. 4 seed, Paige Mintun led the Aggies to the Big West Tournament title (and a first-round NCAA berth against powerhouse Stanford). Shinoda and French were members of that squad. … Masoni, who quit the Matador team last month for personal reasons, is from Italy.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.