Men's Basketball

Big tests for UC Davis men’s basketball this week

UC Davis men’s basketball coach Jim Les.
UC Davis men’s basketball coach Jim Les.

The UC Davis men’s basketball team, coming off a road win on Saturday at Utah Valley, faces a tough double this week.

The Aggies (3-2) will host Sacramento State (5-1) on Wednesday at the Pavilion, then travel Friday to Moraga to play mid-major No. 4 Saint Mary’s (4-0).

The Aggies lost 84-79 to the Hornets last week in an entertaining and emotionally charged Causeway Cup matchup in front of a standing-room-only crowd at The Nest. The physical game featured eight ties and 11 lead changes and UCD trailed by only three points with six seconds to play before Sac State sophomore guard Marcus Graves made a steal and two free throws.

“We’re glad that we could get this series, and the home and home,” UCD coach Jim Les said. “It helps both programs get home games, and I know our guys are excited about it because they were disappointed with the outcome of the last game.”

A much larger crowd is anticipated at the Pavilion than the 1,472 spectators who squeezed into The Nest, the Hornets’ 1,000-seat gym. The Pavilion’s capacity is 5,931.

“It’s going to be another dogfight, a backyard brawl as coach Les likes to say,” said junior guard Darius Graham, who had a career-high 17 points against the Hornets. “The last game was a matter of who was going to make shots at the end, and they did. We got back to the drawing board, went over what we need to do better, and we’re excited to get another shot at them.”

UC Davis was hampered by foul trouble and turnovers. Aggies big man Nolan Berry played just 10 minutes and guard Lawrence White 16 minutes before fouling out. Senior forward Josh Fox had 18 rebounds (a UC Davis Division I record) and 16 points and junior guard Brynton Lemar scored a career-high 21 points, but the Aggies were called for 30 fouls and the Hornets scored 22 points off UC Davis’ 19 turnovers.

“We weren’t in a position actively guarding and anticipating,” Les said. “We were more reactionary, and when you are reactionary on defense, you are going to get a foul called.”

On Friday, the Aggies will play Saint Mary’s, consistently one of Northern California’s top teams and one that is difficult to beat in 3,500-seat McKeon Pavilion, where the Gaels have played their first four games. The Gaels’ closest victory was a 17-point win over Stanford. The Gaels have made the NCAA Tournament five times in coach Randy Bennett’s 15 seasons, where he has developed a pipeline from Australia.

Former Gaels and current NBA players Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova are from Australia, and six Aussies are on Saint Mary’s 13-man roster. They include leading scorer Emmett Naar (18.5 points), a guard, and top rebounder Dan Pineau (8.3 points, 7.5 rebounds), a 6-foot-9 forward.

“It’s the week before finals start, so it’s a good challenge for our guys,” Les said. “Sac State and Saint Mary’s are two regional rivalries, two programs that are doing really well, so we’re excited. It’s a good chance to find out where we stand, how good we are and where we need to improve.”

Et cetera – The Aggies closed out Saturday’s 82-70 victory over Utah Valley in Orem, Utah, with a 20-4 run and scored the final 12 points. Berry scored 18 points, and Neal Monson, playing in front of his family and friends from his nearby hometown of Sandy, added 17 points and 13 rebounds. The Aggies’ leading scorers this season are Fox (16.2), Lemar (13.8) and Graham (10.2). Monson also leads the team in rebounding with 10 per game.

▪ Sac State, which has matched its best start in school history at 5-1, lost to South Dakota 96-90 and beat Pacific 79-71 in its Sacramento State Basketball Invitational. Senior guard Cody Demps leads the Hornets with 16.2 points per game, followed by Graves (15.8) and sophomore forward Justin Strings (11.8).

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP