It’s almost a cliché when coaches talk about team.
But when men’s basketball coaches Jim Les of UC Davis and Brian Katz of Sacramento State mention the word, it has validity.
After all, the Aggies and Hornets lack the athleticism of some of their conference rivals, yet both are in first place with only a handful of games left in the regular season. And both teams continue to establish Division I milestones almost every time they step on the court.
UC Davis (21-4, 10-1), No. 8 in this week’s CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25, has a two-game lead in the Big West Conference with four games to play. The Aggies play at UC Santa Barbara (14-12, 7-5) on Thursdayand at Cal Poly (13-12, 6-7) on Saturday.
Sac State (18-8, 12-3), ranked 19th in the Mid-Major poll, is tied with Montana (16-10, 12-3) and holds the tiebreaker with the Grizzlies entering Thursday’s Big Sky Conference games, though the Hornets don’t play until Saturday at Portland State (14-11, 8-7), the first of three road games to end the regular season.
The Aggies’ Corey Hawkins and the Hornets’ Mikh McKinney are senior guards, team leaders and strong conference Player of the Year candidates.
They have talented complementary sidekicks. For UC Davis, it’s Josh Ritchart, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward with shooting-guard range. For Sac State, it’s Dylan Garrity, the Hornets’ career assists leader and their best long-distance shooter.
Both teams also have experienced players who understand their roles but also are capable of taking over a game when needed.
That was the case Saturday when the Aggies avenged their only conference loss by beating Hawaii 74-67 to remain unbeaten (12-0) at the Pavilion and Sac State improved its home conference record to 9-0 with a 74-66 win over North Dakota at the Nest.
With Hawkins held to six points and Ritchart limited to three minutes because of a knee injury that leaves him questionable for Thursday’s game, reserve senior guard Tyler Les made nine three-pointers and scored a career-high 28 points to lead the Aggies. Senior guard and defensive stopper Avery Johnsonhad 14 points, four assists and two steals, and junior forward J.T. Adenrele had nine points and nine rebounds.
In the Hornets’ victory over North Dakota, McKinney had 16 points and Garrity 12. But it was sophomore Nick Hornsby, junior Cody Demps and senior Zach Mills who made key offensive contributions to help the Hornets finish the regular season 13-1 at home. Hornsby had 17 points, a season-high 11 rebounds and four steals; Mills had 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting; and Demps had nine assists, seven points and no turnovers in 37 minutes.
With precision screens, sharp cuts, critical spacing and patience, UCD and Sac State take few bad shots. The Aggies lead the nation in three-point accuracy (46.3 percent) and are No. 3 in field-goal percentage (49.9). Sac State is fourth in three-point percentage (41) and 13th in field-goal percentage (48.5).
With one of the greatest turnarounds in Big West history, UCD is only the third team and first in 32 years to go from single-digit wins to 20 or more the following season. At various times, Les, Johnson, Adenrele, sophomore guards Darius Graham and Brynton Lemar and reserve forwards Neal Monson and Josh Fox have stepped up offensively for UC Davis while performing their usual role-player duties.
“I haven’t been around a group like this too many times where everyone is pulling for each other and nobody cares about who is getting the accolades,” Jim Les said.
This is the Hornets’ third winning season in 39 years and the first under Katz in his seven seasons. Sac State has started the same lineup of Garrity, McKinney, Demps, Hornsby and sophomore center Eric Stuteville for 24 of their 26 games. Mills, senior forward Alex Tiffin and junior guard Dreon Bartlett are the primary players off the bench.
A road sweep – the Hornets play at Southern Utah next Thursday and at Northern Arizona on March 7 – would give the Hornets their first Big Sky men’s basketball title and make them the host of the conference tournament March 12-14 at the Well, the school’s health and fitness center.
Player of the Week – Senior Sydnee Fipps, who set a school record and helped the Aggies tie another, is the Big West’s women’s basketball Player of the Week. Fipps, a 5-10 forward, had back-to-back 20-point efforts in the second-place Aggies’ 83-66 win over visiting Long Beach State on Thursday and a 62-60 loss at first-place Hawaii on Saturday.
The two 20-point games gave her 32 for her career, setting a UC Davis record. In the win over Long Beach State, Fipps made five three-pointers as the Aggies’ finished with a school-tying 17 three-pointers. Fipps needs 100 points in the final four games of the season to become the Aggies’ career scoring leader.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.
Men: Saturday at Portland State, 7:05 p.m., 1380; March 5 at Southern Utah, 6:05 p.m., 1380; March 7 at Northern Arizona, 1:05 p.m., 1380
Women: Saturday vs. Portland State, noon; March 5 vs. Southern Utah, 7 p.m.; March 7 vs. Northern Arizona, 2 p.m.
Men: Thursday at UC Santa Barbara, 7 p.m., 105.5; Saturday at Cal Poly, 7 p.m., 105.5; March 5 vs. UC Riverside, 7 p.m., 105.5; March 7 vs. UC Irvine, 7 p.m., 105.5
Women: Thursday vs. Cal Poly, 7 p.m., 90.3; Saturday vs. UC Santa Barbara, 2 p.m., 90.3; March 5 at UC Riverside, 7 p.m., 90.3; March 7 at UC Irvine, 2 p.m., 90.3