UC Davis returned to the comfortable confines of the Pavilion on Thursday night to get back to winning and making history during its breakthrough season.
In beating UC Santa Barbara 70-64 behind another marvelous all-around performance from senior guard Corey Hawkins and some strong defense at the end, the Aggies won their 15th game. It is the first time they’ve reached that total since moving to the NCAA’s top Division I in 2004.
They also extended their home-court record to 9-0 this season while playing in front of an announced crowd of 3,081, its second largest of the season.
They also topped a Gauchos team for only the sixth time in 30 meetings.
More importantly, the Aggies (15-4, 5-1) maintained their place atop the Big West Conference standings heading into their nationally televised home game Saturday against Cal Poly.
Hawkins finished with a game-high 28 points and had a team-high six rebounds and three assists. The national leader in three-point shooting made 6 of 8 from beyond the arc and was 9 of 16 from the field and 4 for 4 from the free-throw line.
Sophomore forward Neal Monson added a career-high 16 points and had three rebounds. Gabe Vincent and former Foothill High School star Michael Bryson each had 18 points for Santa Barbara (10-10, 3-3).
“It’s funny, we haven’t talked anything about numbers,” said UCD coach Jim Les. “Everyday it’s about getting better as we go through this marathon. The accolades and the attention they are getting is well-deserved. But they are not focused on it. We didn’t say anything about the 15 wins.”
Added Hawkins, with a smile: “To be perfectly honest we had forgotten about (the 15 wins). But that’s really exciting. It’s a huge accomplishment. But we still have a ton of games.”
J.T. Adenrele’s three-point play with 1:13 remaining gave the Aggies the lead for good at 65-62 after 13 lead changes and seven ties.
Darius Graham had two big defensive plays late, and Hawkins, Graham and Brynton Lemar combined for five free throws in the final 38 seconds.
“I think we’re learning how to close out games,” Hawkins said. “It’s definitely maturity. We’re finding ways to win. We don’t think we’re playing our best, but we’re grinding it out.”
The Aggies, the national leaders in three-point shooting percentage (.448) and No. 4 in field-goal percentage (.502) entering the game, shot 48.9 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Both teams were missing key players.
Santa Barbara played without scoring and rebounding leader Alan Williams, the 2014 Big West Conference Player of the Year. The 6-foot-8 forward missed his third game with a shoulder injury.
The Aggies were without 6-9 senior forward Josh Ritchart, their second-leading scorer. He, too, is out with a sore shoulder and is questionable for Saturday’s game.