It wasn’t the nonconference performanceUC Davis men’s basketball coach Jim Les or his players envisioned before the season.
The Aggies are 5-10 entering their Big West Conference opener tonight at Cal State Northridge and Saturday at three-time defending regular-season champion Long Beach State.
In the nine-team Big West, the Aggies are last in scoring defense, allowing 78 points per game, and next to last in rebounds by opponents, at 36.8 per game.
The Aggies lost junior forward J.T. Adenrele to a knee injury before the season, and 6-foot-9 senior forward Josh Ritchart has missed the last six games with a leg injury. Talented freshman Brynton Lemar also sprained his knee in practice, forcing him to miss the last two games.
Still, UC Davis has shown some promising signs since ending a seven-game losing streak with an 80-74 home win over Air Force on Dec. 21.
Junior Corey Hawkins, last season’s Big West Newcomer of the Year and conference scoring leader, is starting to heat up and is fifth in scoring at 17.1 points.
Senior deep threat Ryan Sypkens, who has struggled with his shooting much of the season, set a school record for made 3-pointers with 10 while scoring a career-high 30 points in a 93-69 win over Simpson on Jan. 2.
Tonight’s game against Northridge (8-7), coached by former Kings player and coach Reggie Theus, feature two of the conference’s leading three-point shooters in Sypkens and Northridge’s Josh Greene. Greene, a senior guard, became the Matadors’ all-time leader in 3-pointers when he made his 183rd in a Dec. 30 loss to Stephen F. Austin.
Long Beach State, despite being 4-10, remains among the conference favorites. The 49ers have played four nationally ranked teams, including No. 1 Arizona, and they have gone 3-1 since UCLA transfer Tyler Lamb became eligible.
Hornets clutch in crunch time – The Sacramento State women (10-1, 2-0), off to their best start in their Division I era and playing the Big Sky Conference’s toughest nonconference schedule, have won most of their games in the final few minutes.
First-year coach Bunky Harkleroad gives credit to assistant coach Kim Stephens for the Hornets’ last-minute heroics as she runs players in and out of his frenetic “The System.”
Stephens captained Harkleroad’s 2010-11 Glenville State team before joining him as an assistant last season at the West Virginia college.
“She knows who can double up on rotations and who needs a breather,” Harkleroad said. “We don’t win if we have the wrong players on the court at the end, and it’s been different each time.”
More impressive is that she’s subbing without the 10 or more players usually needed in such a high-tempo style. Injuries, foul issues and young players not ready for that level of intensity have forced Stephens to be creative.
“You like to go five in and five out every time, but that’s a luxury we don’t have,” Harkleroad said.
Sacramento State entered the week No. 32 in NCAA Division I in Rating Percentage Index, ahead of 315 schools. The RPI is used to rank teams based on record and strength of schedule. The Hornets’ RPI is the best in the program’s history, and they are one spot better than Baylor (12-1), which is ranked seventh in the country by The Associated Press.
Despite the Hornets’ historic start, Harkleroad thinks there is still room for improvement.
“We’re not necessarily playing well. We’re not hitting on all cylinders yet,” Harkleroad said after the Hornets beat defending Big Sky champion Montana 91-81 Saturday. “I think our best days are ahead of us. We just have to keep grinding in practice. We just have tostay grounded, humble and focused.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.