UC Davis men’s basketball coach Jim Les told his players the formula was simple if the Aggies wanted to win their Causeway Cup rematch with rival Sacramento State.
They needed to play better defense and be more aggressive.
The Aggies (4-2) did just that Wednesday night in defeating the Hornets 66-61 in another slugfest in front of 2,934 at the Pavilion.
Junior guard Brynton Lemar had 12 points, sophomore forward Nolan Berry 11 points and nine rebounds, and senior forward Josh Fox 10 points and eight rebounds to lead the Aggies.
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Sophomore forward Justin Strings led Sac State with 16 points, freshman guard Jeff Wu had 12 points and junior forward Nick Hornsby added 11 points and 12 rebounds for the Hornets (5-2).
The game, the 114th between the teams, was almost a complete flip of Sac State’s 84-79 win over the Aggies the week before. In that game, the Aggies got into quick trouble, were whistled for 40 fouls, and two Aggies fouled out and three others finished with four fouls.
But the Aggies battled to the end and were within a three-point shot of tying the game at The Nest before a Marcus Graves steal and two free throws finished it.
This time Sac State had foul difficulties. Senior co-captain Cody Demps fouled out with 10:48 to play, and Strings and junior center Eric Stuteville also fouled out. Graves and Hornsby finished with four fouls each.
But the Hornets, who trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half and nine with 8:49 to play, tied the game 61-61 on Graves’ three-pointer with 1:12 to play. Junior center Neal Monson (six points, nine rebounds) hit three free throws and Berry added two to finish it out.
“For me personally it felt almost the reverse of the last game,” said Monson, one of the Aggies who battled foul trouble the week before but had just one Wednesday. “They had so many guys fouling out. ... We had a really good week. We’ve had a couple of really hard practices, and I think it helped us and we are on the right path now.”
Said Les: “We talked about playing better defense and stressed that with our guys. I thought we were the aggressors tonight.”
This year marked the first time the rivals played each other twice in the same year since the 1991-92 season, when the teams also split.
Sac State coach Brian Katz credited the home court for the split.
“I think in both games the home court made the difference,” Katz said. “We beat them by five at our place and they beat us by five here. I love our guys, I’m so proud of our guys the way they battled. But give Davis credit; they played great. They had a great game plan. They defended us well.”
UC Davis held Sac State to 37.7 percent shooting (23 of 61) while shooting 45.1 percent (23 of 51). UCD outscored the Hornets 30-10 in the paint, and 32 of their 39 rebounds came on the defensive end.
It was a season low in points, field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage for Sac State.
Lemar’s three-pointer from a Fox assist put the Aggies ahead 53-44 when the Hornets began chipping away. The Hornets closed to one, 59-58, on Wu’s layup with 1:43 to play before freshman Siler Schneider put the Aggies up 61-58 with a pair of free throws.
But Graves responded with a three from the right corner to tie it at 1:12 and the Hornets had a chance to take the lead with 19 seconds when Wu made a steal from Lemar. But Graves couldn’t connect on the fast break layup and Hornsby missed the follow.
Monson was fouled on the rebound and made two free throws, then Dreon Bartlett missed a potential game-tying three-pointer with seven seconds to go. UCD got the ball and Berry made two free throws to seal it.
Sac State played from behind most of the game, with its last lead coming on a Hornsby jumper with 15:07 to play in the first half.
UCD travels to Saint Mary’s Friday night while Sac State will play host to Incarnate Word on Monday at The Nest.