College Sports

Hawaii’s size too much for UC Davis women in Big West title game

UC Davis forward Pele Gianotti battles to get off a shot against Hawaii defenders Sarah Toeaina, left, and Kalei Adolpho on Saturday.
UC Davis forward Pele Gianotti battles to get off a shot against Hawaii defenders Sarah Toeaina, left, and Kalei Adolpho on Saturday. The Associated Press

Defeating the top-seeded team in the Big West Conference women’s basketball tournament failed to ensure a place for UC Davis in the NCAA Tournament.

Second-seeded Hawaii qualified by overwhelming the Aggies 78-59 in Saturday’s championship game in front of an announced crowd of 1,523 at the Honda Center.

UC Davis (19-13) advanced to the final by rallying from a 10-point deficit in the third quarter Friday to earn an 81-72 victory over top-seeded UC Riverside, the unbeaten regular-season champion that fielded seven players for the final half of the season because of injuries and suspensions.

The Rainbow Wahine (21-10), however, proved altogether different.

“We have pretty good size, and they’re bigger than us,” Aggies coach Jennifer Gross said. “Their posts also are athletic, so they really come after you on the boards.”

Hawaii relied on that combination of size and athleticism to dominate. The Wahine out-rebounded Davis 47-29, outscored the Aggies in the lane 50-34, and converted 18 second-chance points to UC Davis’ four.

“We knew we had our work cut out for us,” Gross said. “We were trying to crash the boards, but we didn’t do a good job of getting offensive boards. They were so aggressive on the boards.”

Those rebounds enabled Hawaii to outscore the Aggies 10-0 on the fast break.

“We were struggling to get back,” Gross said. “Even when we had one or two people back, they were moving the ball, and the next person was driving. That gave us a lot of problems. One of our keys was slowing them down in transition, but we couldn’t shut them down.”

The Wahine took control in the second quarter. Hawaii began the period with an 8-0 spurt, built a 17-point advantage and made 11 of 14 shots in the period. The Aggies, meanwhile, missed 11 of their 17 field-goal attempts.

But in the midst of defeat, Morgan Bertsch provided hope for the future. The freshman made 7 of 12 shots to finish with a game-high 19 points. Bertsch averaged 19.0 points over her final eight games.

“A lot of people have come to me and said that she reminds them a little bit of Breanna Stewart,” Gross said in reference to Connecticut’s two-time national Player of the Year. “It’s a pretty incredible comparison. She can score inside. She can score outside. She’s mobile. She’s just starting to tap into what she’s capable of.”

Bertsch and teammate Alyson Doherty, who contributed 12 points, made the all-tournament team. Doherty and Celia Marfone also became the first pair of Aggies to grab 200 rebounds in a season since Colleen Turnbull and Sarah Allen in 2002-03