The UC Davis men’s basketball team faces a tough double as it opens defense of its Big West Conference regular-season championship this week at UC Irvine and Long Beach State.
It starts Thursday night in Irvine against the Anteaters, last season’s Big West tournament champions, who advanced to the NCAA Tournament and lost a 57-55 heartbreaker to Louisville in the opening round.
UC Irvine (11-5) is ranked No. 18 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 and has one of the nation’s most intriguing players in 7-foot-6 junior center Mamadou Ndiaye. The native of Senegal is averaging 12.1 points and 7.3 rebounds and is the Big West active career blocks leader with 174.
In addition, UC Irvine senior guard Alex Young is the school’s career assists leader with 479 and junior guard Luke Nelson is averaging 11.5 points.
Long Beach State’s 6-9 record is deceiving with losses to No. 4 Virginia, No. 7 Arizona and No. 14 Duke. Against Duke, former Woodcreek High star Noah Blackwell, a true freshman, made his first college start and had 19 points.
The Aggies (5-8) snapped a six-game losing streak in beating Division II Holy Names 74-49 last Saturday at the Pavilion behind a career-high 20 points from junior center Neal Monson. The Aggies have struggled since senior forward Josh Fox started to battle knee and thigh injuries. The 6-6 forward sat out the past two games and 6-10 forward Nolan Berry (knee) has missed the past three.
Monson, the Big West’s No. 2 rebounder (8.8), and junior point guard Darius Graham have been steady performers for the Aggies, but the biggest boost has come from freshman guard Siler Schneider. The Kansas native has scored in double figures in five of the past six games, including a career-high 21 points in a 64-56 loss at Boise State on Dec. 30. He is averaging 11.1 points, second best for the Aggies.
Star on rise? – Redshirt freshman Morgan Bertsch is leading the UCD women in scoring at 13.4 points and is on pace to be the highest-scoring freshman in the Aggies’ D-I era. The 6-4 center had 13 points, six rebounds and three blocks in helping the Aggies snap a four-game losing streak with a 59-55 win at Utah Valley on Dec. 31.
UCD (8-7) opens Big West play Thursday night at two-time defending tournament champion Northridge (2-12), then hosts Hawaii (7-6), the 2015 conference regular-season champion, on Saturday.
Wounded Hornets – Co-captains Cody Demps and Nick Hornsby are questionable for Sac State’s Big Sky Conference game Thursday night at Montana State (6-8, 1-1).
Hornsby, a junior forward, is nursing a groin injury and didn’t play in the Hornets’ 76-68 loss at Portland State on Saturday in their Big Sky opener. Demps, a senior guard, has been bothered by a troublesome quad. He played eight minutes against the Vikings before coach Brian Katz shut him down.
The short-handed Hornets (7-5, 0-1) never led against Portland State (5-7, 1-0), though they tied the score three times in the second half. Sophomore forward Justin Strings (19 points, 13 rebounds) and junior center Eric Stuteville (17 points, 12 rebounds) led the way for Sac State, which closes a three-game Big Sky trip on Saturday at Montana (7-6, 2-0).
Coach John Stockton – Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton is expected to be on the Montana State women’s bench Thursday night when the Bobcats (9-4, 2-0) play Sac State (4-8, 1-0) in a Big Sky game at The Nest.
Stockton is filling in as an assistant coach this season on a team that includes his daughter Lindsay, a senior guard.
The Bobcats will try to slow a Hornets team that has broken school and Big Sky scoring records in consecutive home games. Sac State beat Portland State 132-91 to break its own school and Big Sky game points record in the conference opener on Saturday at The Nest. Senior guard Adella Randel-El had a strong all-around game with 18 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals in 26 minutes.
Sac State will host defending conference champion Montana (9-4, 2-0) on Saturday.