It’s a testament to the aspirations of the UC Davis men’s basketball players that they see a need to get a lot better if they hope to be a factor in this season’s Big West Conference race.
This is an Aggies team off to one of its best starts in school history at 7-1. On Tuesday, UCD shot 58 percent from the field and held Eastern Illinois to 42 percent shooting in beating the Panthers 80-70 at the Pavilion.
But while senior leader Corey Hawkins had team highs of 19 points, six assists and three steals in helping the Aggies beat the Panthers for the second time this season, he saw a need for improvement. The 6-foot-3 guard called the Aggies’ 16 turnovers unacceptable and bemoaned the 12 offensive rebounds Eastern Illinois got in spite of UCD’s overall 29-24 advantage on the boards.
He also thought some of the defensive lapses that led to the Aggies’ first loss of the season – 79-71 at Idaho on Saturday carried over three days later.
“The good teams bring defensive intensity every game, so we can’t make excuses,” said Hawkins, who scored a season-high 33 points against Idaho. “I think sometimes there are four guys doing what they need to do out there and maybe one guy slacking, and at times that may be me.
“As one of the leaders of this team, I take it upon myself to get everyone going defensively. We don’t have to worry about offense; the offense flows. We know we can score the ball and get hot at any point.”
Even though UCD didn’t shake Eastern Illinois until the final minute, coach Jim Les was pleased how the Aggies battled the persistent Panthers. He said this might have been the type of game UCD would have lost in past years.
“The good thing is we have room to grow,” Les said. “The thing I like about this team is you can continue to raise the bar and challenge them to get better.”
Hawkins said pulling out a win the hard way at home after easy triumphs over Utah Valley and San Jose State was a nice way to go into finals week and before finishing out the year with four consecutive road games. The Aggies play Dec. 20 at Air Force, Dec. 22 at Northern Colorado, Dec. 28 at Washington State and Dec. 30 at Seattle.
“It builds confidence,” Hawkins said. “Even though we didn’t play particularly at our best, to scrap out a win like that is huge. With four on the road, we’re going to have to get to work and perfect our defense in practice. We’re excited to be 7-1. I think a lot of teams realize we’re a much different team this year.”
Big home games – The Sacramento State men hope to rebound from two road losses last week with home games tonight against Cal State Fullerton and Sunday against Portland.
The Hornets fell 72-61 on Dec. 4 at Abilene Christian and 74-62 on Saturday at UC Irvine to fall to 4-3.
The Hornets are 3-0 at home this year and will face a Titans (3-6) team that is 0-5 on the road.
Sac State senior guard Dylan Garrity scored his 1,000th career point in the loss to Abilene Christian. He became the 12th player in Sac State history to reach that milestone. His 1,035 points trail only Northern Colorado’s Tevin Svihovec (1,069) among active Big Sky Conference players.
Portland (6-2) is off to a strong start despite its 68-65 overtime loss to Oregon State on Saturday.
The Pilots return four starters and seven of their eight top scorers from last year’s 15-16 team.
Among the returning starters is junior guard Bryce Pressley, a former Jesuit High star. He is averaging 4.9 points in 29 minutes for the Pilots.
More Pac-12 action – The Sac State women’s four-game tour of the Pacific-12 Conference will continue Friday at UCLA and conclude Sunday at USC.
Sac State (1-6) played well in a 107-94 loss at No. 18 Cal on Dec. 3 but struggled in falling 109-61 at No. 15 Oregon State on Saturday. The Hornets shot 23 percent, their lowest percentage under second-year coach Bunky Harkleroad.
The up-tempo Hornets lead the NCAA in three-point shots made at 13.1 per game. But they are No. 332 in field-goal percentage at 32.6.
Pac-12, too – The UC Davis women’s team also will play Pac-12 teams in upcoming back-to-back games. Saturday, the Aggies (4-4) are at Arizona State. On Dec. 22, UCD will play at No. 7 Stanford.
Other than their one-sided loss to No. 2 Connecticut in the season opener, the Aggies have been competitive even in defeat. Their losses to Saint Mary’s, USF and Santa Clara have been by a combined eight points.
Before Wednesday night’s game at San Jose State, UCD ranked 13th nationally in three-point shooting percentage at 39.6. Senior Kelsey Harris was No. 15 nationally in three-point shooting, averaging 51 percent.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.