UC Davis men’s basketball won twice on Saturday night.
The Aggies defeated Long Beach State 73-67 in a wild overtime thriller to run their record to 8-0 at the Pavilion, topping the Big West Conference heavyweight for only the third time in 23 meetings.
The Aggies (12-3, 2-0) also won some invaluable national face time against the 49ers (7-11, 1-1) as they played in front of an ESPNU audience and an energetic, enthusiastic announced crowd of 5,089, many of whom stormed the court afterward.
Billed as “The Throwdown on ESPN,” the game drew the fourth-largest crowd at the Pavilion since UCD moved to Division I in 2004.
More importantly, it gave the Aggies some rare national exposure for a team seeking a breakthrough season in the NCAA’s highest division, something not lost on the players, coaches and longtime followers of UCD basketball.
UCD senior guard Corey Hawkins said it’s an adrenaline rush to play on TV and in front of a rare full house.
“It’s huge for our program,” said Hawkins, who finished with a team-high 28 points (including seven in overtime) and 10 rebounds. “We’re fairly new to the D-I show as far as our progression. So it’s great that it puts us on the national stage as a team but also shows off our academics as a top-10 (public) university.”
Darius Graham scored six of his 12 points in overtime.
Students and fans showed off their enthusiasm as Aggies baskets were met with loud cheers and 49ers scores often with high-decibel boos. They danced and sang and got more boisterous as UCDavis mounted an 11-point comeback in the second half. The roars made their way throughout the Pavilion, even into the nearly filled top reaches of the upper grandstands, which are rarely utilized.
Bill Herenda – a Comcast SportsNet Bay Area Kings commentator and blogger, KFBK morning sports anchor and former UCD basketball radio commentator – soaked in the atmosphere as a fan and father of a UCD student. He loved seeing the Pavilion packed and the atmosphere as electric as at schools like Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and Indiana.
“Just the vibe of the student body helps produce a tremendous college environment that shows brilliantly on TV,” Herenda said. “I know UC Davis and coach (Jim) Les are looking for this to be the norm rather than the exception.”
Longtime UCD announcer and former athletic administrator Larry Swanson said being on national television is good for the Davis community, “fun for our town.”
“It’s also great for this group of players,” Swanson said. “They are really special. It’s been quite awhile that we’ve had some real success on the basketball frontier.”
Thirteen-year UCD assistant Kevin Nosek, a former Aggie, was part of UC Davis’ success in the D-II days, when the team regularly won titles under UCD Hall of Fame coach Bob Hamilton and later Bob Williams, now the UC Santa Barbara coach.
Nosek played at UCD from 1996 to 1999 and was a member of the Aggies’ 1998 NCAA D-II championship team.
“Those were spectacular, fun nights,” Nosek said. “The moment I hear the band, I feel like I’m playing again. I feel a lot of pride when we see this type of crowd. It gives us a chance to show what we’re about.”
It’s the third consecutive year that UCD has appeared on national television.