UC Davis may have run smack into the fork in the road in its 67-60 loss to Air Force on Saturday afternoon at the Pavilion.
With the season nearly one-third complete, the questions abound.
Are these the promising Aggies that started 4-2 and looked as if they were poised to follow up on on last year’s breakthrough, history-making season?
Or are they headed down a different path now that they have lost three in a row, including just their second home loss in their last 19 games at the Pavilion?
UCD coach Jim Les said he isn’t about to sound the alarm.
“We talked before the season that at some point we are going to face some adversity,” Les said. “When and how it comes, you never know.
“Part of building our culture is to withstand adversity. ... They are facing a little bit of adversity now, and I said we are going to find out, all of us, what we’re made of. Sometimes it’s good early in the season to have this test.”
UCD (4-5) played poorly in nearly every facet against Air Force (7-4). The Aggies shot 38.1 percent from the floor (24 of 63) and 17.4 percent from three-point range (4 of 23). They made 1 of 14 three-point attempts in the first half.
The Aggies entered the game averaging 46.7 percent from the floor and 42.7 from beyond the arc.
They also played poorly on defense as the Falcons shot 50 percent (24 of 48) from the floor and held the lead for the final 33 minutes. Junior forward Hayden Graham led the Falcons with a game-high 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting while sophomore guard Trevor Lyons added 14 points and five assists.
“It’s growing pains that come with a new team,” said junior point guard Darius Graham, who led the Aggies with 16 points and had five assists. “We’re going to work a little bit harder in practice. ... We’re going to find a way to get out of this, and I’m very confident we will.”
The Aggies’ shooters went cold.
Even Graham, as the Aggies’ leading scorer, struggled to find his touch, making 1 of 8 three-pointers.
“I felt like we got good shots,” Graham said. “They just didn’t fall. It happens. But you can’t be discouraged. If we were taking bad threes, then I would say something different.”
Les thought that the Aggies’ offensive struggles hurt them on defense, too, calling it a “double whammy.”
“I thought we took some of our offensive disappointment to the defensive end,” Les said. “…We don’t come into the game thinking, ‘OK, we are going to have to shoot well to win.’ I know we need to defend well to win regardless of what happens offensively. We’ve got to develop that culture and mentality as a team.”
The Aggies’ two leading scorers, forward Josh Fox and guard Brynton Lemar, were held to a total of six points.
Fox, averaging a team-leading 14.4 points, had two points on four shot attempts in 20 minutes. But Les said the Aggies’ senior leader is slowed by a balky right knee.
“He’s fighting through some physical ailments,” Les said. “He’s a warrior. I like the fact that he is willing to play not 100 percent. It’s not anything major or serious, but it’s impeding his ability to practice, impeding his ability to be himself out on the floor. So we’ve got to get him healthy.”
UCD may get a better idea of where its season is headed on Tuesday night when it hosts red-hot Idaho (7-5). The Vandals beat New Hope 127-54 Friday night eight days after topping Washington State 78-74.
“They scored 127 points, so our defense better be good,” Les said.