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Bertsch, UC Davis look to go the distance in first-round NCAA Tournament game against Stanford

UC Davis’ Morgan Bertsch grabs a rebound in front of UC Irvine’s Sabrina Engelstad, rear, and Brooke Bayman during the Aggies’ 82-50 win Friday.
UC Davis’ Morgan Bertsch grabs a rebound in front of UC Irvine’s Sabrina Engelstad, rear, and Brooke Bayman during the Aggies’ 82-50 win Friday. Orange County Register

The UC Davis women’s basketball team is as focus on winning its first-round NCAA Tournament game as it is about making memories.

Riding a 16-game winning streak that culminated in a Big West Conference Tournament championship and an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, the Aggies are looking to make plenty of them when they tip off Saturday against No. 2-seed Stanford Cardinal at Maples Pavilion.

“We’re just here really ready to enjoy this experience,” said senior Morgan Bertsch. “enjoy the time that we have left with each other because I know that I’ve had a ton of fun the past five years here, and so I’ve been waiting to get to this NCAA Tournament. It’s really just the icing on top of the cake at this point.”

In the big dance for the first time since 2011, UC Davis (25-6) faces a tough opponent in Stanford (28-4), which finished the season ranked sixth in the nation behind senior Alanna Smith, who averages 19.6 points per game and is a projected top-10 pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft.

This will be the second time the team’s have met this season. On Nov. 7, the Aggies fell to Stanford 71-43 to open the season.

UC Davis is ranked No. 20 in the nation in three-point field goal percentage at 36.8 percent and the 6-foot-4 Bertsch has scored more points in UC Davis history then any man or women. This season she has led the team in points – averaging 23.5 points and 6 rebounds per game – as well as steals and blocks.

“They’re great three-point shooters, they have got a tremendous player in Morgan Bertsch, going inside and they are an extremely well coached team,” said Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer. “So they do everything. They rebound, they play defense, they score.”

UC Davis head coach Jennifer Gross is close to the Stanford program. Last offseason, she made the 109-mile drive to Palo Alto to help teach VanDerveer and Stanford the Princeton offense. When Gross found out the Aggies were playing Stanford, she said her first reaction was that it would be strange to not be rooting for Stanford.

“Obviously we’re excited, and we’ll be excited to play anybody,” Gross said, “but on one hand we’ve been cheering them on all year.”

Gross was the associate coach in 2011 the last time UC Davis made it this far. She has won regular season championships and has progressed deep into the WNIT as head coach, but couldn’t win the conference tournament to gain the automatic berth until this season.

Saturday’s game will be the Cardinal’s 32nd consecutive tournament appearance as the No. 2 seeded team in the Chicago region. Stanford is 86-30 all-time in the tournament and 36-4 at home after reaching 11 consecutive Sweet 16 games.

The Cardinal is led by another long-range shooter, senior Alanna Smith. The Australian averages 19 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks a game and is the only women’s Division I player to get 70 3-pointers, 70 blocks and 600 points in a season in two decades.

Since 2007-08, Davis has lost all 17 games it has played against ranked schools.

“It’s hard to get here, it really is,” Gross said. “You know, I thought back a lot to that 2011 team and what they were able to accomplish, and then that very next year was the first year that I took over the program as the head coach. I know how hard it is to be in this moment. And so really what we’ve been telling our team team all year is just enjoy it. Enjoy the process.”

The Aggies will tip-off at Stanford 30-minutes after the BYU vs. Auburn game at approximately 2:30 p.m. The game will be televised as part of whiparound coverage on ESPN2.

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