The UC Davis men’s basketball team, having gone nearly a month without a victory, penciled last Saturday’s home game against Air Force as a must-win – never mind the fact the Aggies had lost their past three games at the Pavilion.
Making matters worse, the Aggies were riding a seven-game losing streak, the most recent a heartbreaking 89-85 triple-overtime loss at San Jose State in which UC Davis led by 19early in the second half. Failing to hold onto second-half leads became a frustrating habit for the Aggies.
But against Air Force (6-5), it was the Aggies who rallied after halftime and held on for an 80-74 win.
Trailing 45-44 with 14:47 to play, UC Davis freshman forward Georgi Funtarov scored on a tip-in that started a 17-3run.
When Air Force closed to 71-67 on a layup by Justin Hammonds with 2:16 to play, the Aggies responded with a 7-0 run.
UC Davis coach Jim Les was pleased with his team’s improving defensive prowess. It scored a season-high 28 points off 15 Air Force turnovers, and the Falcons didn’t earn their first free-throw attempt until 12:48 remained in the second half.
Though the Falcons finished 7 for 8 from the line, UC Davis was 21 for 24. The Aggies shot 16 of 29 from the floor in the second half.
“We were able to shoot 55 percent in the second half because we created great shots off our defense,” Les said.
Junior Corey Hawkins scored 20 points in 36 minutes, looking strong despite having played 53 minutes three days earlier against San Jose State.
Senior Ryan Sypkens came off the bench to score 17 points, including four 3-pointers, in breaking out of a prolonged shooting slump. Sypkens led an Aggies bench that outscored Air Force’s reserves 32-6.
UC Davis (4-9) returns home Monday to play Furman (5-6)..
In an 86-83 win over Liberty last Friday, Furman sophomore point guard Stephen Croone scored 40 points and had 11 rebounds. He was the first player from the Greenville, S.C., university to score 40 or more points in a game since 1972.
Sac State (7-1) plays the fast-paced, full-court pressing and half-court trapping “System” while UC Davis (4-7) runs a methodical, Princeton-type offense and extended two-three zone defense.
The Hornets average 93.1 points, fourth-best in the nation, coached by Bunky Harkleroad in his first season at Sac State. UC Davis, coached by Jennifer Gross, is allowing 72.1 points a game against an ambitious schedule that includes No. 1 Connecticut, No. 4 Stanford and a Saint Mary’s team that is 10-1.
Last season, the Hornets beat UC Davis 66-65 in overtime at Sac State.
Senior guard Alle Moreno leads Sac State in scoring (17.8 points) and floor burns, having twice been named a Big Sky Conference Player of the Week. In her last game, a 99-94 win against UC Irvine on Dec. 14, the 5-foot-5 Moreno surpassed 1,000 career points.
Junior forward Sydnee Fipps (17.2 points) is the Aggies’ all-around leader and was named Big West Conference Player of the Week on Monday.
The 5-10 Fipps scored 22 points, including 16 in the second half, in the Aggies’ 75-70 win at Santa Clara on Dec. 18, then had 23 points and five rebounds in last Saturday’s 63-58 overtime victory at home against Houston Baptist.
The 2012-13 All-Big West first-team selection needs 143 points to become the 16th UC Davis player to reach 1,000 for her career.
Sac State (3-5), which lost 59-51 last Saturday at Cal State Fullerton, will play its first four Big Sky games on the road, beginning Jan. 2 at Montana State.