UC Davis women’s basketball has taken fans on a roller coaster ride the past four seasons.
They are 33-33 in Big West Conference games during that span, and they’ve finished 15-16 overall the last two seasons while playing brilliantly one night and so-so the next.
Last year, the Aggies won five consecutive Big West Conference games late in the season and looked ready to challenge for the conference title, but they lost the last five games to finish 8-8, tied for fifth.
The Aggies had another Jekyll and Hyde performance in their exhibition game Saturday against Division II Humboldt State at the Pavilion. They allowed the smaller Lumberjacks to hang around long enough to force overtime before UCD won 74-64.
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The team’s chronic inconsistency hasn’t escaped the attention senior forward Alyson Doherty, a 6-foot-3 All-Big West Conference preseason selection.
“That’s been one of our main goals,” said Doherty, who averaged 13.4 points and 6.5 rebounds and made the All-Big West Conference second team last season. “We’ve had so much talent the last three years, but we haven’t shown that talent consistently. Now we want to show how good we are night in and night out.”
Coach Jennifer Gross said Doherty has evolved from a hard-working, lead-by-example player who overcame a serious knee injury toward the end of her sophomore season to someone unafraid to speak her mind.
“She has an understanding of what it is going to take to win a championship,” said Gross, in her fifth season. “She is holding her teammates accountable and herself accountable but in the right way, the positive way. She’s not afraid to stop a drill in practice and say, ‘Hey, guys, we’ve got to pick this up. This isn’t good enough.’ ”
Doherty’s metamorphosis began last season after four-year star Sydnee Fipps suffered a season-ending knee injury late in the year. The Aggies, without their leading scorer, figured to have no hope in the Big West Conference tournament. Instead, spurred by Doherty, they beat UC Irvine and Long Beach State before losing to eventual champion Cal State Northridge in the semifinals.
Consistency is the one thing Doherty has offered since the day she arrived in Davis from Lake Forest in Southern California.
“I always know what I’m going to get from her,” Gross said. “She is always so reliable. So I’m excited for her this year. She’s done the work, so now is the payoff.”
Doherty will need to be a central figure if the Aggies hope to return to the NCAA Division I playoffs for the first time since winning the Big West Conference tournament in 2011.
The Aggies have eight other returning lettermen, two redshirts and twin freshmen with dazzling résumés.
Doherty will team with 6-foot senior Celia Marfone, 6-4 redshirt freshman Morgan Bertsch and 5-10 redshirt freshman Lauren Seyranian for a formidable inside presence, one that has Gross tinkering with the Aggies’ perimeter-based Princeton offense.
Sophomore guards Rachel Nagel and Dani Nafekh and sophomore forward Pele Gianotti will be counted on to help replace some of the scoring lost by the graduation of Fipps and three-point specialist Kelsey Harris, the team’s No. 1 and No. 3 scorers, respectively, last season.
Aggies fans also will see double; twins Koutrney and Karley Eaton, freshmen guards, led their Longview, Wash., high school to two state championships.
For the Aggies to escape their middle-of-the-pack hump, Gross said it will take a combination of grit, focus, confidence, good health and a few fortuitous bounces.
“It’s tough to go through the conference and lose just one or two games,” she said. “ … But it’s possible. When you have that balance of talent and work ethic, you develop that confidence that there is nothing than can really stop you. I feel this team has the potential for that.”
Five things to know about the Aggies
- The UC Davis men’s and women’s teams will play five doubleheaders this season, starting with Friday’s openers at The Pavilion. The men host North Dakota State, followed by the women against No. 16 Stanford. The teams also will play Big West Conference doubleheaders Jan. 14, Jan. 30, Feb. 13 and Feb. 27. “It was such an electric atmosphere when we’d both play (when UCD was in Division II),” said coach Jennifer Gross, a star point guard for the Aggies in the mid-1990s. “This gives us a chance to support the men. It’s also a great opportunity for our fans to come out and watch two programs that I really think have bright futures.”
- Gross says freshman twin guards Karley and Kourtney Eaton bring a special dimension to UCD basketball. “With Kourtney at point guard, she brings a different pace to the game,” Gross said. “She’s the only player I’ve seen who is faster with the ball than without it.” Karley is an outside threat – she had a tournament record six three-pointers in a state championship game last season. “Our fans are definitely going to enjoy seeing them play together,” Gross said. “They have a knack for finding each other on the court.”
- It’s rare that a mid-major school can attract a Top 25 power to its gym. But Stanford will make its third trip in seven seasons to UCD on Friday in a series that surprisingly is tied 10-10. Last season, the Aggies hosted three-time defending national champion Connecticut in the season opener. Gross credits the big-picture views of coaches like Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma and Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer. “They have an understanding of what’s good for women’s basketball, not just for their own programs,” she said.
- UC Davis was fourth nationally in three-point percentage last season at 38.7, thanks largely to Sydnee Fipps (40.1) and Kelsey Harris (48.3, third nationally), both now playing professionally in Europe. But Gross still thinks the Aggies will shoot the ball well from a distance. “The confidence we developed to make shots has rubbed off on Rachel (Nagel), Dani (Nafekh) and Pele (Gianotti),” Gross said. “They combined to shoot close to 40 percent from three. That’s the legacy the seniors left for them.”
- The media picked UC Davis to finish sixth in the Big West Conference. Defending Big West regular-season champion Hawaii was selected to repeat, followed by UC Riverside, Cal Poly, Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State.
UC Davis women at a glance
at San Diego State
at Portland State
at Saint Mary’s
CSU Monterey Bay
1 p.m./3 p.m.
at Utah Valley
at Cal State Northridge*
at UC Santa Barbara*
at Cal Poly*
Long Beach State*
UC Santa Barbara*
at UC Riverside*
at Cal State Fullerton*
Cal State Fullerton*
Cal State Northridge*
at Long Beach State*
at UC Irvine*
Big West Tournament
*Big West Conference game; **Women of Troy Classic (Los Angeles)