Playing without their star player for the past month, the Aggies managed to finish strong and muscle their way to the No. 1 seed in their conference tournament.
The UC Davis men's basketball team captured the Big West Conference regular-season title with Saturday's thrilling, double-overtime win at UC Irvine, 90-84.
The Aggies erased a five-point deficit in the final 32 seconds of the first OT period to force another, less-dramatic extra period in which they sealed the deal.
Forward AJ John put together an unbelievable performance for UCD, scoring a career-high 20 while pulling in nine rebounds. John scored nine points in overtime alone on a trio of clutch 3-pointers. TJ Shorts added 21 more points for the Aggies, including eight free throws. Evan Leonard had a game-high 22 for the Anteaters.
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With the victory, UCD earns the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament and automatic entry into the National Invitation Tournament if the team falls short of the NCAA Tournament.
UCD (21-9, 12-4) and UC Irvine (16-16, 11-5) entered Saturday's game knotted at the top of the Big West standings, so the game represented a winner-take-all affair for the regular-season title. The contest was tied 69-69 at the end of regulation and 79-79 after the first OT. Neither side ever led by more than eight points.
Winners of five straight and nine of their last 11, the Aggies figure to enter the conference tournament with plenty of momentum.
The Aggies have been without their best player, senior forward Chima Moneke, for exactly one month as of Saturday's clincher. Moneke was suspended from the squad indefinitely on Feb. 3 for violating team rules at a hotel. Moneke was the team's leading scorer (18.4 points per game) at the time.
The details of Moneke's suspension have not been made publicly available by the university or police. His team went 6-2 following the suspension.
John, a junior, took over Moneke's spot in the starting lineup.
The thrilling win gave coach Jim Les and his players had plenty to dance about.
The Big West tournament runs March 8-10 at the Honda Center in Anaheim. UCD will face No. 8 seed UC Riverside in the first round Thursday.
The Aggies last faced UC Irvine on Jan. 4, a 64-53 UCD victory to open Big West play. The teams also squared off in the 2017 Big West championship game. UCD prevailed 50-47, earning its first taste of March Madness.