Dedrique Taylor was doing everything in his power Thursday night to beat the history-making UC Davis men’s basketball team.
Taylor is the coach of struggling Cal State Fullerton. His last place Titans were at the Pavilion trying to turn around their season while seeking an upset of the Big West Conference leaders.
But Taylor, a former UC Davis player and assistant coach, admits to still having a soft spot in his heart for the Aggies, especially this season.
“As long as we’re not playing them, I’m pulling for them,” Taylor said. “That’s my alma mater, and I want to see them do well.”
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On a night the Aggies shot poorly from the perimeter and foul line, their savvy and growing confidence carried them past the Titans 75-69 to move a game and half ahead of idle UC Irvine and two games ahead of Long Beach State, which lost at UC Santa Barbara.
It also was the Aggies’ fifth straight win and third consecutive without injured star Corey Hawkins as they climbed to 19-4 on the season and 9-1 in conference. They are 11-0 in games at the Pavilion this season. Fullerton dropped to 9-15, 1-8 in conference.
Junior forward Josh Fox led five players in double figures with 18 points on six of six shooting from the field and six of nine from the foul line. He also had six rebounds.
Tyler Les added 14 points, Avery Johnson 11 points and four steals and Josh Ritchart and Brynton Lemar 10 points each. Ritchart had a team-high eight rebounds.
UCD never trailed but also never felt they had a comfortable lead, either. The Titans trailed by as many as 11 points early in the second half and twice cut the lead to two points midway through the final half.
“We didn’t play our best basketball but we just grinded one out,” said UC Davis coach Jim Les. “This group has a unique knack to make plays when they absolutely have to.”
UCD came into the game as national leaders in three-point shooting percentage (46.2) and No. 4 in field goal percentage (50.3). But they struggled from the perimeter and finished 43.5 percent for the game. They shot 43.8 from three and 71.8 percent from the foul line.
“We didn’t play as well as we can tonight, but gutting one out in conference against a talented Fullerton team, we’ll take it for sure,” said Tyler Les.
Fox said the Aggies’ performance just reinforces their depth.
“Corey is amazing, but we’re a team and people step up,” Fox said. “There are just so many people on this team, we’re so cohesive. We’re a complete team.”
Taylor was impressed, too, though he was proud how his players battled the Aggies.
“They really take advantage of their tools,” Taylor said. “They really share the ball well, they move the ball, they space the floor and at all times they have four guys on the floor that can shoot the ball.”
Taylor played two seasons at UCD during its Division II heyday. He helped the Aggies win two conference titles in 1995 and 1996, and graduated one year before they would go on to win the D-II national championship.
He sees a lot of similarities between those Bob Williams-coached teams of that era and what coach Jim Les is doing with the Aggies this season.
“There was a a different type of brotherhood with those teams I played on,” Taylor said. “I can see the same thing now. Coach Les is recruiting the same types of kids, so I can see them repeating some of what we had when I was here.”
Jim Les expects that Hawkins, the Big West scoring leader, should be ready to play next Thursday at Long Beach State.
“He’s getting better, he’s 24-7 rehab,” Les said. “We sat down with the medical staff and they thought if he could get a couple of days more rest it would put him in a better position for next week and to finish the year healthy.”