It seems a bit of a shocker. It’s February and folks are talking about Sacramento State and UC Davis men’s basketball. Both teams are atop their conferences and nationally ranked.
“No question this area has been viewed for a long time as a pro basketball region and, rightfully so, because of the impact of the Kings,” said UC Davis coach Jim Les, a former Kings player. “But it’s nice that the local colleges are doing well. There’s a definite buzz.”
UC Davis (16-4, 6-1) twice has played on ESPNU before packed crowds of 5,000 or more at the Pavilion, and they won both dramatically in overtime, including Saturday against Cal Poly. The Aggies’ 16th victory was the most since the program moved to Division I, and they are 10-0 at home.
“The energy and enthusiasm on campus is off the chart,” Les said. “There is a good buzz around campus. It’s amazing how many young players are now interested in UC Davis.”
Sac State coach Brian Katz, a Sacramento native, said it’s great when the Nest is packed, as it was Saturday when the Hornets (15-6, 9-1) beat Montana 70-69 on Dylan Garrity’s three-pointer with six seconds remaining. It snapped a 15-game losing streak to the Grizzlies.
“The crowd really was a factor in us winning that game,” Katz said. “It really energized our guys and made Montana a little hesitant.”
The Sac State game Saturday against Portland State already is sold out, though some standing-room-only tickets will go on sale one hour before the 2:05 p.m. tipoff, an early start because of an athletic department fundraiser crab feed later in the day.
“This is all so unusual right now,” Katz said of a program that has never had a winning season since moving to Division I in 1991.
UC Davis is ranked 14th and Sac State 15th in CollegeInsider.com’s Mid-Major Top 25.
The Aggies have a huge challenge Thursday when they play at Big West tri-leader and preseason favorite UC Irvine (13-8, 6-1) in a game that can be watched on ESPN3, the sports network’s online streaming service.
The Anteaters have won their last six games, have a seven-game winning streak against UCD and feature one of the tallest teams in Division I. Five players are listed at 6-foot-10 or taller, including 7-6 sophomore Mamadou N’Diaye, though his status is uncertain after missing the last five games with a left foot injury.
UC Irvine also has 6-8 senior Will Davis II, who played at Sacramento High. He averages 11.3 points and 6.1 rebounds and is UC Irvine’s career blocked shots leader with 198. The Anteaters also have a strong perimeter trio of Luke Nelson, Alex Young and Travis Souza that has helped make them fifth nationally in three-point field-goal percentage (41.7 percent).
UC Davis leads the nation in that category at 45.4 percent and is fourth in field-goal percentage at 50.2 percent. Big West Conference Player of the Week Corey Hawkins is averaging 21.3 points, best in the conference and sixth nationally, and is No. 1 nationally in three-point shooting at 52.6 percent.
Though the Hornets have won their last six games and are 10-1 at the Nest, Katz is wary of Portland State (11-9, 5-5). Last year, the Vikings handed the Hornets one of their two home conference losses.
“They’ve got quality wins on the road at USC and Weber State,” Katz said.
A win over the Vikings would give Sac State 16 wins, its most in Division I. It also would ensure the Hornets of their first winning season at that level.
Lost in the excitement of Sac State’s win over Montana on Saturday and Montana State last Thursday was Garrity becoming the Hornets’ career assists leader with 504, topping DaShawn Freeman’s 501.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.
Men: Saturday vs. Portland State, 2:05 p.m., 1380; Feb. 12 at Eastern Washington, 6:05 p.m., 1380; Feb 14 at Idaho, 7:05 p.m., 1380
Women: Saturday at Portland State, 7 p.m.; Feb. 12 vs. Eastern Washington, 7 p.m.; Feb. 14 vs. Idaho, 2 p.m.
Men: Thursday at UC Irvine, 7 p.m., 105.5; Saturday at Cal State Northridge, 7:30 p.m., 105.5; Feb. 12 vs. Cal State Fullerton, 7 p.m., 105.5
Women: Thursday vs. Cal State Northridge, 7 p.m., 90.3; Saturday vs. UC Irvine, 2 p.m., 90.3; Feb. 12 at. Cal State Fullerton, 7 p.m., 90.3