If you play for UC Davis coach Jim Les, you’ve got to be prepared to shoot a basketball almost until your arm falls off.
Many of the Aggies must make at least 200 shots a day, one reason UCD came into Wednesday’s Big West Conference opener against Cal State Northridge at the Pavilion with the highest three-point percentage in all of NCAA Division I at 43.2 percent.
The Aggies hiked that percentage in beating the Matadors 71-61, UCD’s fifth win in the last six meetings with Northridge (4-12, 0-1).
Tyler Les and Avery Johnson combined for nine three-pointers and the Aggies shot 48 percent (12 of 25) from beyond the arc as UCD (11-3, 1-0) started 7-0 at home for the first time since the 2003-2004 season.
Les finished with a season-high 15 points on 5 of 10 three-point shooting and Johnson made a career high four of five three-pointers in finishing with 14 points. Corey Hawkins and Josh Fox each added 11 points. Stephen Maxwell led Northridge with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
That the Aggies are shooting so well from the perimeter isn’t a surprise, even to Johnson, known more as a defensive stopper.
“We shoot a lot of shots before, during and after practice as well as on our own,” Johnson said. “Coach preaches to us to respect the game, get into the gym and work hard, and that’s what we do.”
Jim Les, a standout three-point shooter in his NBA days, says it helps to have a strong core of good shooters, including Tyler Les, Jim’s son, Johnson and seniors Corey Hawkins and Josh Ritchart.
“I think one of the great attributes of this team is that when a guy gets it going, their teammates are looking for them,” Jim Les said.
Center Neal Monson, who had a season-high 10 rebounds and added six points, says being able to score in bunches so far from the basket can wilt an opponent’s resolve. “As a big man who doesn’t shoot the three, it helps we have so many options,” he said. “It makes it really tough for teams to cover multiple shooters.”
It was a back and forth battle through most of the first half – the lead changed hands seven times – before Hawkins’ three-pointer from an assist by Darius Graham put the Aggies ahead 28-27 with 4:43 to play.
That ignited a 19-4 run that gave the Aggies a 44-31 halftime lead.
UCD went up by as many as 19 points in the second half, but hit a cold spell after Hawkins hit a jumper to put the Aggies ahead 66-50 with 6:08 to play. Northridge went on a 9-0 run to close to seven points before Hawkins put it away with two free throws with 47.5 seconds.
The Matadors played only seven players and didn’t dress seven, including six members of a vaunted freshmen class put together by second-year coach Reggie Theus, the former Kings player and coach.
Next up for the Aggies is Long Beach State on Saturday for an ESPNU nationally televised game from the Pavilion, a much-anticipated contest for the players.