The trajectories of Tyler Les’ three-point shots are so high, the North American Aerospace Defense Command might pick them up on radar.
But rather than be intercepted in midair, Les’ shots often find their target and help the UC Davis Aggies maintain the NCAA’s best three-point shooting percentage.
Les had career highs of 28 points and nine three-pointers (on 13 attempts), including 5 of 6 in the first half, and the Aggies remained perfect at the Pavilion with a 74-67 victory Saturday night. But they received quite a scare from the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.
The win avenged the Aggies’ only Big West Conference loss, an 84-76 setback on Jan. 22. UC Davis has won seven straight since then.
“The higher the arc, the better chance of it going in,” the Aggies senior guard said. “Steph Curry of the Warriors has a great arc, and he gets great rolls.”
UC Davis overcame a bad shooting night from leading scorer Corey Hawkins to improve to 21-4 and 11-1 in the Big West, two games ahead of second-place UC Irvine.
A Les three-pointer from the left corner tied the score 51-51 and capped a 10-0 run to get the Aggies back in the game. Les’ ninth three-pointer came at the 4:53 mark and gave UC Davis a 64-61 lead, its first lead of the second half and one it would not relinquish.
Hawkins uncharacteristically was a nonfactor for the Aggies on offense. He shot 1 of 8, including 0 of 3 from three-point range, and ended with a season-low six points.
“Corey didn’t have a good night shooting, and credit Hawaii for running a couple of defenders at him every time he touched the ball,” UC Davis coach Jim Les said. “But we have a lot of guys who can step up, and we can still win even when Corey has an off night. We can go eight or nine guys deep.”
Senior guard Avery Johnson tied his season high with 14 points.
Known for their shooting, the Aggies limited Hawaii to six points over the last eight minutes.
Hawaii’s starting frontcourt featured two 6-foot-11 Stefans from different continents. Center Stefan Jovanovic is from Serbia, while forward Stefan Jankovic is from Ontario, Canada.
Jankovic, especially, was a problem for the Aggies. He had a career-high 21 points to lead the Rainbow Warriors but did not score in the final 17 minutes with UC Davis forward Josh Fox dueling with Jankovic while giving up five inches of height.
“Josh and J.T. (Adenrele) got that assignment, and it was clear from the start (Jankovic) was going to be their guy,” coach Les said. “Josh is extremely tough, and when he got three fouls in the first half and had to sit, (Hawaii) shot 60 percent in the first half.”
Aggies starting forward Josh Ritchart was injured just a minute into the game. He set a pick at midcourt for point guard Darius Graham and banged knees with a Rainbow Warrior, then crumpled to the floor in agony.
Ritchart was helped off the court and returned to the bench midway through the first half with a large icepack on his left knee. He returned to start the second half with a knee brace but shut it down soon after. He’ll be evaluated in the next two days when the swelling goes down, Jim Les said.
Hawaii’s leading scorer, Aaron Valdes, did not play because of illness. The Rainbow Warriors fell to 18-11 overall and 6-7 in the Big West.
Mark Billingsley is a Carmichael-based freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com or @editorwriter001.