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    • Men: Today, at North Dakota, 5:05 p.m.; Saturday, at Northern Colorado, 6:05 p.m.

    • Women: Today, vs. North Dakota, 7 p.m.; Saturday, vs. Northern Colorado, 2 p.m.


    •  Men: Today, vs. Hawaii, 7 p.m.

    •  Women: Today, at Hawaii, 9 p.m.

Unsung players help struggling UC Davis men’s basketball team earn critical Big West Conference win

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 - 8:58 pm
Last Modified: Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 - 3:25 pm

They combined for only one point, but sophomore forward Justin Dueck and sophomore guard Olivier-Paul Betu may have done as much as anyone to resuscitate a dying UC Davis men’s basketball season.

Both earned their first starts of the season and combined to play 43 minutes (31 more than their combined average) to help the Aggies beat Cal State Fullerton 69-61 last Saturday at the Pavilion, ending a three-game Big West Conference losing streak.

UCD outscored the Titans 46-32 in the second half, a positive sign for a team that had been outscored by a combined 55 second-half points in losses at Long Beach State on Jan. 11 and last Thursday at home against UC Riverside.

Dueck and Betu gave the Aggies a much-needed boost on defense. Dueck had five rebounds and Betu had four steals and three rebounds while the two combined to take just one shot from the field and three from the foul line.

“Defense has been an area that we needed to address,” said UCD coach Jim Les. “We did some tough defensive drills (on Friday), and I thought Justin and O.B. really embraced it, and played well in practice.

“If I’m going to hold true to my word and say defense is important – and that’s what we’re stressing – then I have to back it up and put the guys in the game who are doing that in practice. … They stepped up and set the tone.”

So did junior captain Corey Hawkins, who had a game-high 22 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 37 minutes despite a sore and bloodshot left eye.

Hawkins suffered a scratched left eyeball two days earlier against UC Riverside. The Aggies led 55-37 when he was injured and left the game with about 14 minutes to play. He didn’t return and UC Riverside won 81-69.

Les didn’t expect that Hawkins would be able to practice last Friday. But he showed up to lead what was one of the team’s most intense practices of the season.

“You’ve got to practice like you play,” said Hawkins, who said there was plenty of “frustration, disappointment, anger” in the locker room after Thursday’s loss. “The guys stepped up, they practiced well and they played well. It was refreshing to see.”

Les said that it helped that Ryan Sypkens, Iggy Nujic and Darius Graham, who usually start, played well coming off the bench, combining for 28 points.

“They didn’t sulk,” Les said. “They came in and played with a vengeance.”

In addition, Fullerton was held to 29 percent shooting in the second half and committed 17 turnovers that led to 29 points for the Aggies.

Now, the goal is to sustain that defensive focus.

The Aggies received some bad news Wednesday when it was announced that senior Josh Ritchart will miss the rest of the season because of a lower-leg injury. Ritchart, who missed the past 10 games because of the injury, averaged 17.3 points and 6.6 rebounds this season.

UCD (6-13, 1-3) hosts Hawaii (12-5, 1-2) tonight before heading on the road to play Cal Poly (7-10, 3-1) next Thursday and UC Santa Barbara (11-5, 2-1) on Feb. 1.

Hawaii eyed – The UCD women, fresh off an improbable 69-67 overtime win at Cal State Fullerton Saturday, play tonight at Hawaii (8-7, 2-1).

The victory put the Aggies (8-9, 3-1) into a three-way tie for the Big West lead.

Playing in Southern California must have felt like a homecoming for a number of Aggies, including Alyson Doherty, Molly Greubel, Kelsey Harris, and Celia Marfone, all of whom attended high school within a 25-mile radius of the Fullerton campus. They combined for 45 of the Aggies’ points and 25 of their 44 rebounds.

Greubel made the Aggies’ most important plays to send the game into overtime. With UCD down by two points, the sophomore drew a charge on a Titans’ inbound-pass attempt, then calmly buried both free throws with 0.5 seconds remaining to tie the score.

Wrong-way streak – After starting 11-1, the Sacramento State women (11-4, 3-3) have lost their past three games and now face Big Sky Conference leader North Dakota (11-5, 6-1) tonight at The Nest.

Though Sac State is 8-1 at home this season while averaging 95.8 points, 15.7 3-pointers and 21.7 assists per game, the height-challenged Hornets will face a tough test against the best rebounding team in the Big Sky.

North Dakota ranks ninth in the NCAA, averaging 45.8 rebounds per game with a plus-10.6 rebounding margin.

After falling to Southern Utah at home and Portland State and Eastern Washington on the road, the Hornets are averaging 20 fewer points than the 94.2 points they averaged through the first 12 games of their school-record start.

A big reason is a drop-off in 3-point shooting. The team is averaging seven fewer 3-pointers (14.7 to 7.7) made in the past three games.

Hornets’ streak ends – The Sac State men’s streak of 561 games with at least one made 3-pointer came to an end last Thursday, as the Hornets went 0 for 4 from beyond the arc in a 68-64 overtime loss to Portland State. The streak dated to Nov. 28, 1993.

The Hornets started a new streak by making 6 of 15 from beyond the arc in a 75-64 win over Eastern Washington on Saturday.

Sac State (6-9, 2-4) plays at North Dakota (6-10, 3-3) today, then travels to first-place Northern Colorado (11-4, 5-1) on Saturday to face the only Big Sky team ranked in the Mid-Major Top 25. The Bears are No. 15.

Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.

Read more articles by Bill Paterson

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