UC Davis’ biggest nemesis of the season destroyed the Aggies’ hopes to qualify for the NCAA tournament Friday night.
Hawaii ---which gave Davis one of its two losses in conference play ---repelled the top-seeded Aggies’ late rally to earn a 65-58 victory in the semifinals of the Big West Conference men’s basketball tournament at the Honda Center.
Despite the loss, Davis (25-6) qualified for the National Invitation Tournament by winning the regular-season championship.
“We still have basketball to play,” Aggies coach Jim Les said. “I told the players that they earned the right to play another day. We think we’ll be in the conversation to host a game, which would be great for our campus and our community. I think the body of our work certainly warrants that..
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However, Les dismissed the possibility of the Aggies receiving an at-large invitation to its first NCAA Division I tournament.
“I would say probably not, realistically,” Les said. “I’ve played the at-large and RPI game, and it gets very confusing. It’s probably an extreme long shot..
Fifth-seeded Hawaii (22-12) not only defeated the Aggies 84-76 in Big West play Jan. 22 in Honolulu but also took a 10-point lead at Davis on Feb. 21 before the hosts rallied to win.
“They’re a very aggressive team,” said Aggies guard Corey Hawkins, who scored a game-high 22 points. “They get after it. They’re very in your face. They feed off turnovers. They try to get after you not only physically, but mentally.” The Rainbow Warriors used their intensity to take early control. Hawaii made eight of 10 shots ---including five from three-point range ---in a seven-minute span early in the first half to build a 22-9 advantage with 10:53 before halftime.
But with the Warriors holding a 56-45 lead with 4:05 to play, Davis struck. Three successive three-pointers ---two by Hawkins ---ignited an 11-0 blitz that forced a 56-56 tie with 1:58 to play. Hawaii’s Isaac Fleming made two free throws with 1:40 left to break the tie. Josh Fox had a chance to re-establish it 22 seconds later but missed both foul shots in the double-bonus situation.
Yet Davis received the ball back with 58.7 seconds left when the Warriors’ Roderick Bobbitt threw the ball out of bounds. After Davis called a timeout, Hawkins took the inbounds pass, dribbled into the lane and launched a one-handed floater from 11 feet.
“When he gets in the paint and shoots that running floater, that’s a money shot,” Les said, “I’ll live and die with that one more times than not..
However, Hawaii’s Aaron Valdes blocked the shot and secured the loose ball with 41 seconds remaining.
“I thought,” Les said, “that it was just an unbelievably athletic play for him just to get a piece of it..
After Fox fouled him with 32.9 seconds left, Valdes made both free throws to extend Hawaii’s lead to 60-56. The Warriors then used another big defensive play to secure the victory.
As Darius Graham was dribbling into the frontcourt, Bobbitt reached behind the Davis guard to tip the ball, which Fleming deflected to teammate Negus Webster-Chan with 27 seconds to play.
Webster-Chan passed to Bobbitt, who got fouled and converted both ensuing foul shots to give Hawaii a 62-56 lead with 26.2 seconds to go.
Bobbitt finished with 14 points and six assists. Fleming added 13 points and Valdes contributed 12 points.