College Sports

Local college notes: UC Davis faces bruising test in Big West

UC Davis guard Darius Graham (2) rushes down court during the Aggies’ game against Air Force on Dec. 19, 2015, in Davis.
UC Davis guard Darius Graham (2) rushes down court during the Aggies’ game against Air Force on Dec. 19, 2015, in Davis. aseng@sacbee.com

Fourth-seeded UC Santa Barbara takes an eight-game winning streak into Thursday’s Big West Conference men’s basketball tournament opener against No. 5 UC Davis at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

The Aggies (11-18) have won just one of their past seven games, but UC Santa Barbara coach Bob Williams expects a fierce battle.

“Davis has definitely turned the corner in terms of their culture,” said Williams, who led the Aggies to an NCAA Division II championship in his last season as UCD coach in 1998. “Defensively they are a completely different program than they were three years ago. They are so much more physical.”

65.3 Points allowed by UC Davis, fewest in the Big West Conference

UCD leads the conference in least points allowed (65.3 per game) and nine of its 16 conference games were decided by five or fewer points. UCD was 5-4 in those contests.

UC Santa Barbara (17-12) beat UCD twice during the regular season, but Williams described the games as “physical war – bodies were flying.”

UCD has played well in its past three games. It lost to Big West co-champions UC Irvine (24-8) and Hawaii (24-5) by one and two points, respectively, before ending the regular season with an 87-83 triple-overtime win at Cal State Northridge on Saturday to end a six-game losing streak.

Even though the victory didn’t affect tournament seeding, coach Jim Les thought it was huge for a team with a rotation usually only seven deep.

“I do feel our team is peaking and playing its best basketball at the right time of the year,” Les said. “I thought us gutting out a win and making the necessary plays down the stretch to pull out a victory just helped with the validation.”

The Aggies are led by senior forward Josh Fox and junior point guard Darius Graham, who received All-Big West honors, Fox on the second team and Graham as honorable mention.

He can put that team on his back and carry ’em for long stretches during the game.

UC Davis coach Jim Les, on UC Santa Barbara’s Michael Bryson

Senior guard Michael Bryson, who played at Foothill High School, leads the Gauchos with a conference-high 18 points per game.

“He can put that team on his back and carry ’em for long stretches during the game,” Les said.

Football – Will Plemons has returned to Sacramento State as defensive-line coach. Plemons coached the defensive line for the Hornets in 2007 before moving on to Fresno State. He coached three years in the Canadian Football League, in 2012 and 2013 with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and in 2014 with the Toronto Argonauts. He replaces Solomona Tapasa, now at Southern Utah.

Soccer – The UC Davis men’s team will host defending NCAA Division I champion Stanford in an exhibition May 14 at 2 p.m. The Aggies also will play Republic FC on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at Cosumnes River College.

▪ The U.S. U-19 women’s national team will train at UC Davis from Saturday through March 19. The team is preparing for the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Nov. 13-Dec. 3 in Papua New Guinea.

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP

Thursday’s game

Men’s Big West Conference tournament opener, UC Davis vs. UC Santa Barbara, noon, 105.5

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