College Sports

Improving UC Davis men suffer another hoops heartbreaker

UC Davis isn’t playing like a team that has lost six games in a row.

The Aggies outplayed Big West Conference-leading Hawaii for most of the game on Senior Night Thursday at the Pavilion.

But in the end it was the Rainbow Warriors (24-4, 13-2 Big West) who celebrated clinching at least a tie for the regular-season conference title and earning the top seed for the upcoming conference tournament after they went on a 9-3 run in the final 2:34 to rally for a 67-65 win over the Aggies (10-18, 5-10).

It was the second consecutive heartbreaking home loss for UCD. On Saturday, the Aggies rallied from 17 points down in the second half, took a one point lead with 14 seconds to play before falling to second place UC Irvine 62-61 in a nationally televised game.

“As I told the guys (after the game), they are giving me everything they have and peaking,” said UCD coach Jim Les. “We cannot let the results of these last two games dampen our energy and enthusiasm. ... What they have proven to themselves, and what we as a staff believe, is that they are capable of beating anybody, especially heading to Anaheim where you need three wins.”

UCD, which hasn’t won since Feb. 6, held the lead for almost 38 minutes and was up 62-58 on a Josh Fox jumper with 3:04 to go. Then the Rainbow Warriors ran off eight consecutive points to lead 66-62.

A three-pointer by freshman guard Siler Schneider enabled UCD to close to 66-65 with six seconds before Hawaii’s Roderick Bobbitt hit one of two free throws with four seconds to play.

Darius Graham’s long three-point attempt rimmed in and out at the buzzer for the Aggies.

Fox, a 6-foot-6 senior forward playing his last game at the Pavilion, led UCD with a game-high 19 points and eight rebounds. Junior guard Brynton Lemar had 15 points and Schneider and junior center Neal Monson 12 points each.

Senior guard Quincy Smith led Hawaii with 15 points, senior forward Sai Tummala had 14 and Bobbitt, the team’s star guard, 11 to give rookie coach Eran Ganot his 24th win. That ties a Big West record for wins by a first-year coach, matching Jerry Tarkanian (1967-70) and Lute Olson (1973-74). Both won 24 games in their first seasons at Long Beach State.

But it was the Aggies that had most of the highlights. They held the Big West scoring leaders to 11 points below their average and held them to 45.1 percent shooting from the floor. The Aggies had a season-high 22 points off turnovers as the Rainbow Warriors committed 16.

And it seemed like it might finally be the Aggies’ night. UCD scored the game’s first 11 points and led by as many as 13 midway through the first half. Hawaii had a brief one-point lead in the first half, then closed six times to within two points in the second half

But after the Fox basket and before Schneider’s final bucket, the Aggies missed four shots, the front end of a one-and-one free throw and had a critical turnover.

Despite the late-game disappointment and the long losing streak, Fox said he was encouraged by the team’s performance as they prepare to play their final regular-season game at Cal State Northridge on Saturday, then in the Big West tournament starting next Thursday in Anaheim.

“Before these two games happened we were kind of on a lull,” Fox said. “But with these two games we’re reaching our peak and hitting our stride at the right time going into the tournament. We are due for a winning streak.”

Fox, the team’s scoring leader and No. 2 rebounder, was honored in a ceremony before the game.

“Once the final buzzer rang, it was kind of reality that it was my final time on the Pavilion court,” he said. “It’s a bittersweet moment. I’m going to miss this place. I’m going to miss the Davis community and miss our fans.”

Les said he is going to miss his senior leader, who joined the Aggies last season after starting his college career at UC Riverside before transferring back home to City College of San Francisco.

“I feel sad that our player-coach relationship is winding down, coming to an end, and that I will never have a chance to coach him inside the Pavilion again, but I am honored to have a relationship, and a friendship, with an unbelievable ambassador for this university,” Les said. “His character, not just on the floor, but in the classroom and around the community, is phenomenal.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP