College Sports

Champs prove much too tall an order for Aggies

Huskies Kia Nurse takes a loose ball up the floor ahead of UC Davis Aggies forward Pele Gianotti in the first half, at The Pavilion in Davis, Calif., on Friday, November 14, 2014.
Huskies Kia Nurse takes a loose ball up the floor ahead of UC Davis Aggies forward Pele Gianotti in the first half, at The Pavilion in Davis, Calif., on Friday, November 14, 2014.

Jennifer Gross had to pick her poison Friday night against the visiting Connecticut Huskies.

Does the UC Davis women’s basketball coach deploy a 2-3 zone against the nation’s No. 1-ranked and two-time defending national champion Huskies, or go man-to-man and get exploited by the faster, taller and deeper squad that hasn’t lost in more than 18 months.

Gross went with the zone and the Huskies shot right over it, burying 18 three-pointers to take a 102-43 win in front of an announced women’s basketball record crowd of 4,712 at the Pavilion. The Huskies hit their first four three-point attempts. They were led by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis’ 30 points, all three-pointers. She finished two points shy of her career mark set last season against South Florida.

It would be easy to bemoan the 59-point loss. A victory would have been one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history, regardless of gender. For Gross and the Aggies, this game was more about what they did than what the Huskies did against them. And, hey, they lost last season at UConn by 60 points, 97-37.

“I didn’t look at the scoreboard much,” Gross said. “I was more worried about whether we were boxing out, running the offense and playing hard for all 40 minutes.”

It’s a good thing Gross wasn’t watching the scoreboard because she might have gotten dizzy. After Aggies forward Sydnee Fipps hit a three-pointer at the 8:57 mark of the first half, UConn went on a 23-0 run to finish the half and started the second half on a 16-0 run. That 39-0 run is believed to be the longest in Huskies history.

By all accounts, the Aggies did play hard. Kelsey Harris had three three-pointers for the Aggies to keep the game relatively close within the first few minutes. She led the Aggies with 12 points, the only Davis player in double figures. Harris, a senior guard from Brea, had a school-record 86 three-pointers last season.

But sometimes even your best will result in a blowout loss when facing a team like the Huskies. The last time UConn were defeated was March 12, 2013, a 61-59 loss at Notre Dame.

The Huskies do everything well. They fill the lanes on fast breaks, they get their hands into passing lanes, go to the rim for rebounds and anything less than a crisp chest pass will earn a spot on the bench next to coach Geno Auriemma, who has as fierce a glare as any coach in any sport. Any mistake made and the Huskies make it hurt.

“They really have no weakness; they are so fundamentally sound,” Gross said. “Everything you try to attack, they have an answer for.”

Every time the Aggies got just a tiny bit of momentum, Mosqueda-Lewis, a senior forward from Anaheim Hills, made sure the Aggies couldn’t sustain it for more than a possession or two. It was too much Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart, the 2014 NCAA Division I Player of the Year. Stewart, a junior forward from North Syracuse, N.Y., finished with 15 points and six rebounds, and she tied for team highs in assists (seven) and steals (three). The assists mark was a career high.

“Our approach is never that we are playing an overmatched opponent,” Auriemma said before Friday’s tipoff. “We see UC Davis as an opponent that is going to make us work hard defensively and who is going to challenge us defensively. They run some great stuff and are very disciplined offensively. So I think, as a season opener, this is a little different than playing someone you don’t have to worry about. UC Davis is going to challenge us and will tell us how good we are.”

Really good, coach. Really good. A better test for the Huskies comes Monday when they visit No. 6 Stanford.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee